Feature Article - February 2009
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Inspiring a Lifetime of Health

Wellness Programming for the Under-18 Crowd

By Dawn Klingensmith


full third of American children are overweight or obese. Eighty percent of obese teens will become obese adults. To reduce that percentage, early intervention and education is vital. Parks and recreation departments and facilities are uniquely poised to address the childhood obesity epidemic because their programs are affordable and far-reaching, and providing opportunities for kids to be active is part of their mission.

However, a shared belief has emerged among parks and recreation managers who are serious about reducing childhood obesity rates and instilling lifelong habits conducive to overall health. Their belief is that parks and recreation programming aimed at kids and teens should strongly emphasize nutrition, not just movement, and that opportunities should be created to teach youngsters healthy eating habits.

"I think it's critical to include nutrition education and connect it to physical activity and recreation, and that it's critical to do so with children early on," said Ann Wheat, a recreation supervisor for an after-school wellness program implemented by the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department in cooperation with other agencies.

It's critical because people's dietary habits and preferences are established at an early age. A child who grows into adulthood carrying excess weight and who is accustomed to inhaling junk food and eschewing vegetables is more likely to suffer hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, gall bladder disease and cancer. It's important, therefore, that youths learn to associate healthy foods with positive experiences and health outcomes so they will be more likely to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout their lives.