The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 17% of children in the United States are obese. From 1980 to 2008 the obesity rate TRIPLED for children.[i] In Washington 26% of people are obese or overweight. In Spokane County, 27% of our friends and neighbors are obese.[ii]
The Washington State Department of Health tells us that the risk of being obese increase with every single step down the economic ladder – meaning that those with the least access to preventative medical care are the ones who need it the most.
"Adults with annual household incomes of less than $35,000 are 44% more likely
to be obese than those in households with annual incomes of $75,000 or more."
Obesity in Washington State, Washington State Department of Health, Feb 2009
Additionally, the less education a person has, the more likely she is to be obese. Adults without a college degree are 52% more likely to be obese than college graduates - even when accounting for other socio-economic differences. And there is additionally a huge disparity among various ethnicities, with African Americans and Hispanics far more likely to be obese.
In 2008 the medical costs related to obesity was $147 billion – and that was only direct medical expenses for U.S. adults. Once chronic sick days and reduced productivity are taken into account, the hit to the economy is even more substantial. Sadly, the CDC projects that, without intervention to stop the trend, ½ of the U.S. population will be overweight or obese by 2030.
Scientists and policy pundits can debate the various factors that heave led us to this place, but they all agree that our world is now set-up to promote decreasing amounts of physical activity. We need to change the equation and put physical activity back into our every day lives – and to get the message of health and wellness out in ways that reach increasing numbers of people and in multiple settings. Further, the healthy choices offered need to be varied, readily available and easily affordable. The CDC has identified five target areas for preventing and reducing obesity, the second of which the Spokane Parks Foundation is pursuing: Increase physical activity.
There are SO MANY reasons that we need parks. But the health and future wellbeing of children is chief among them. Lately there has been a small flood of articles and studies showing why being outdoors is so vital for kids. These studies are not just showing that exercise done outdoors is better for kids than indoors (though any is better than none!), but also that when a child is connected with nature her performance in math, reading and science also improves.
In his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv defined Nature Deficit Disorder – the lack of nature education and outdoor exposure. His book directly links the lack of nature to the rise in obesity, attention disorders (which negatively impact educational attainment) and depression. He argues, and more and more social scientists and medical researchers are echoing him, that direct exposure to nature is essential for the physical and emotional health of children AND adults.
And what better place to be exposed to nature than in a park?
A four-year study conducted in partnership between Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine found that more than 760 kids who participated in Miami-Dade’s Fit2Play program (a community-wide obesity prevention program) lowered their blood pressure, improved their cardiovascular fitness levels and increased their knowledge regarding health and wellness. Additionally, the program directly helped obese kids to lose weight over the course of the school year, and helped kids who were in the normal weight range to remain in that range.[iii]
It is precisely this growing body of evidence that is leading us to create a new program to get more kids and families outside and engaged in parks - and to help create a healthier community.
[i] http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/AAG/obesity.htm, Center for Disease Control
[ii] http://www.doh.wa.gov/portals/1/Documents/Pubs/345-291-ObesityInWashingtonState.pdf, Washington State Department of Health
[iii] http://aphaannualmeeting.blogspot.com/2014/11/go-out-and-play-role-of-parks-in-health.html, American Public Health Association