Feature Article - September 2010
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Kids Get Active

After-School Programs to the Rescue

By Deborah L. Vence

In the Wise Kids Outdoors program, kids are outdoors the majority of each session doing things like greening up an area, hiking on scavenger hunts, digging for worms, looking for critters and even learning about geocaching, orienteering and reading maps. Some kids even practice setting up a tent or build a fort, Hanson explained.

"Most times, they are outside exploring and/or being active for up to 45 to 60 minutes as they learn about environmental stewardship and nature around them," she added.

And, the impact of the program has been encouraging. Survey results indicated that children in Milwaukee who participated in the program are exercising more often on their own and making healthier choices about food. Also, they are spending less time watching television and playing computer games.

"The kids just embraced [the program] wholeheartedly," Hanson said.

For example, after participating in the Wise Kids program, children ate breakfast more often and spent more time in physical activity and less time on the computer, watching TV or playing video games.

Further evidence showed that there was a 30 percent change in the number of children who said they enjoyed eating fast food, such as hamburgers and French fries; a 14 percent change in the number of children who said they like to eat fruits and vegetables; a 16 percent change in the number of children who said in the last week they did eat fruits and vegetables; an 18 percent change in the number of children who said they like eating breakfast. Also, 100 percent of program participants said they were definitely or somewhat interested in learning more about healthy living at the end of the program; and 100 percent of parents said their children enjoyed the Wise Kids program all or most of the time.

Besides Milwaukee, the state of Oregon initiated a pilot project last year—called the Portland Rx Play project—to help fight childhood obesity.

The project, the lead researcher for which is Dr. Stewart Trost, an associate professor at Oregon State University's Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science, evaluates the effectiveness of an innovative childhood obesity prevention model that combines clinician-based physical activity counseling and prescriptions with referrals to physical activity programs offered by local parks and recreation departments.

"If you look at what we've been doing from a research standpoint, the childhood obesity figures that come out of the CDC are still pretty high. Even though we might be [considered] No. 1 [in the country as having the lowest childhood obesity rate], we don't think we're doing that well," said Randall S. Rosenberger, associate professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., who helped research the 2008-2012 Oregon Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan [SCORP] report.

"Some of the research in the last SCORP report did put preference points on counties that had an increasing obesity rate with lack of outdoor recreation opportunities, though it was not directed at youth in particular," Rosenberger said.

"To me, what I've seen, Oregon patterns pretty much mirror the rest of the nation. With lower obesity rates here, I don't know of scientific evidence that explains why that is the case. But, there is a lot of biking, hiking and camping [in Oregon]. Physical activity or inactivity isn't necessarily the culprit for childhood obesity. There's a combination of factors. Childhood obesity is all over the place," he added.