Can Recess Slow Childhood Obesity?
Your Take: An environmental education expert advocates an old-school solution for children's health.
Access to healthy foods has long been named as a major reason for the obesity trend but it's not the only culprit in the black obesity epidemic -- access to the outdoors plays a prominent role as well. The National Wildlife Federation's Eco-School USA program recently launched the Healthy Living Pathway initiative, which emphasizes the importance of outdoor time but also encompasses other aspects key to healthy development, including general physical fitness and unstructured play.
A study by Active Living Research (pdf) stated that children can get up to 40 percent of their exercise through recess. Yet that same study also mentions that black and Hispanic kids are less likely to have recess than their white counterparts.
Yes, it's true. Recess has been cut back across the country because of the now infamous No Child Left Behind Act. The legislation, whose stated purpose was to make students more competitive, has proven a mixed bag at best because of its focus on "teaching to the test." Outside the classroom, too, it has wreaked havoc, cutting into valuable recess time for some kids who can least afford to lose it. As stated in the Robert Wood Johnson's Healthy Living Communities report on preventing childhood obesity:
"Large urban areas in the United States remain flashpoints for violence and property crime, which attract national attention and cause many to question the safety of their own communities. Moreover, residents who live in communities plagued with dilapidated buildings, unkempt lots, crumbling or nonexistent sidewalks, crosswalks and bike lanes, may not feel as safe as residents who live in well-maintained communities."
Who wants to go outside and play, jog or walk in a park that is coming apart at the seams? Not me, that's for sure. The outdoors is an easy and inexpensive way to stay healthy -- no membership or medication required. But before the outdoors can be used for health and recreation it must be safe.
So instead of placing blame or attributing banal stereotypes to why obesity is trending in the black community, we may want to take a look at the environmental barriers that exist that have yet to evolve from bad to green.
Danielle Moodie-Mills is the senior manager of Environmental Education Campaigns at the National Wildlife Federation and adviser to LGBT Policy and Racial Justice at the Center for American Progress. Read her musings on politics and pop culture at www.threeLOL.com. Follow her on Twitter.