Editor's Desk - March 2007
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Somebody Come and Play

“Play is the only way the highest
intelligence of humankind can unfold.”

—Joseph Chilton Pearce

A little more than 100 years ago, communities and organizations joined together to accomplish a big mission. They eventually formed the Playground Movement and were responsible for establishing some of the first playgrounds ever built—crucial to children's free-play opportunities and physical well-being.

Now is the time for more action, according to a recently created partnership of organizations.

The problem is the rapidly rising rate of childhood obesity—a rate that some say could lead the current generation of children to be the first in American history who have a shorter life span than their parents—a big step backwards. A December 2006 report form the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that obesity rates among 6- to 11-year-olds increased from a little more than 15 percent to nearly 19 percent in just five years, from 1999 to 2004. At this rate, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, 20 percent of children and youth in this country will be obese by 2010.

Obesity isn't any better for kids than it is for adults, leading them to show up at doctors' offices with complaints that aren't generally seen even in 20-year-olds: hypertension, insulin resistance, sleep apnea and more. Aside from the physical dangers of obesity, kids in this category also are more likely to suffer with mental issues, including depression and low self-esteem. Obese children also are often targets for bullies and discrimination.

This is why various organizations—including the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA), the YMCA of the USA and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) have joined to create The Partnership for Play Every Day. The partnership is dedicated to increasing the opportunity for play and the quality of play for this country's children and youth. The ultimate goal is to bring the public, private and nonprofit sectors together to help ensure that youth take part in at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, with half of that activity taking place at school during quality physical education classes and recess for younger children.

Research has shown that only one-third of high school children get this much physical activity daily, while they spend 6 hours on average in front of a computer or television every day. In addition, an increased focus on academics and a loss of funding has had negative impacts on physical education programs and other activities that take place during and after school.

In fact, President George W. Bush recently undermined quality physical education further by recommending no money for the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) in his 2008 budget. The program has repeatedly been targeted for elimination, despite the fact that it has provided almost $400 million for quality physical education in schools and community-based organizations.

Other problems cited by a February 2007 report from Stanford University include urban sprawl, concerns about safety and crime, a loss of financial support for public play areas and a lack of understanding of how important physical activity is to health and well-being.

"In particular," the study's authors write, "opportunities for unstructured or self-structured play have diminished, even as such opportunities are recognized by developmental psychologists as being critical to the development of problem-solving skills of children."

Kids who get involved in daily physical activity not only improve their bodies, they also improve their minds. Some 95 percent of parents said in a recent survey that they want physical education to be included in school curriculum for kindergartners through high school seniors, but quality physical education is largely a thing of the past for many students.

Some action is taking place on the federal level. According to the partnership's Web site, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) is sponsoring the Promoting Lifelong Active Communities Every Day or PLAY Every Day Bill. This legislation would require federal agencies to support the development of measurement tools to help communities determine the strengths and gaps in policies and programs for children and youth. In addition, the bill would authorize federal agencies to fund model communities in order to develop action plans to promote play quality, spaces and voices.

The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) also has gotten involved, urging Congress to fund PEP with $73 million.

What can you do to promote play and physical activity for kids throughout the United States?

Get involved! Write to your senators, state and U.S. representatives and President Bush to request greater attention to these issues.

Other than that, you're probably already more involved than you know. Ensuring there are adequate places for kids to get involved in physical activity is important. Make your voice known in your neighborhood. After all, as the cliché tells us, "Think globally; act locally!"


Emily Tipping, Editor

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