Feature Article - April 2005
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Catch Those Kids

How to make and market kids’ programming to not only fight fat but rise above a bloated marketplace of leisure choices

By Margaret Ahrweiler

When it comes to the state of the American kid, it seems the bad news pops up everywhere: Modern kids are fat, and more kids are getting fatter every year. The phrase "The Obesity Epidemic" now seems an ever popular part of the mainstream media lingo. Concerns over kids growing the wrong way are showing up everywhere from Time magazine (which tagged 2004 the Year of Obesity in one recent column) to trade shows where aisles of vendors promote everything from playground equipment to exercise programs as a way to combat The Obesity Epidemic.

Ironically, children have more activity options than ever before, including the ones you offer at your facility. Why aren't they taking them?

Of course, that explosion of options is one of many culprits behind the flabbification of American youth. Children today are squeezed between the dual vises of less free time and more ways—many of them sedentary—to fill that same time.

While the numbers and the trends can make those who run programs throw up their hands in frustration, hope still beckons. Creative recreation professionals, representing a wide range of facilities, budgets and audiences, are proving that with the right ingredients, they can stir the activity pot to attract kids who need active programs the most. Scratch the surface, however, and these diverse successes share some common denominators:

  • Make it easy to attend.
  • Make it feed off the pop culture that drives children's lives.
  • Make it diverse, with many different activities within one program.
  • Make it a learning experience (even if they don't know it).
  • Give it time: Kids' programs, like kids themselves require patience.

To succeed, recreation professionals need to recognize what drives the decline in activity in order to overcome it. While everyone agrees that plenty of outdoor and playground time keeps kids active, for one, they must recognize that children may not get to those facilities as easily as they did, say, 20 years ago.

Parents and caregivers no longer allow children to walk to the park by themselves, says Tammy Van Ess, recreation supervisor at the Green Bay, Wis., Parks, Forestry and Recreation Department, or can't get their kids to the park in a two-income household. But Green Bay has made it easy to help parents give their kids a day at the park through its supervised parks program. (Proving that a good idea isn't always a new one, the program is entering its 82nd year.)

  Now vs. Then


Brady Bunch and Gilligan reruns 24-hour TV channels for kids
Solo trips to the parkConstant adult accompaniment
Games played in the neighborhood streetStranger danger keeps kids at home
Same old board gamesReally cool video games
All-encompassing park leaguesElite club teams
Home-cooked mealsTakeout, prepackaged and processed foods
Stay-at-home momTwo-income families


  • More school intramurals
  • P.E. focus on fitness
  • Health clubs cater to kids
  • Year-round team sports
  • Non-traditional sports take hold
  • Some healthier fast-food options
  • More sport opportunities for girls