Creating Active Environments for Active Lifestyles

from the Coalition for a Healthy and Active America

The lack of green space in many American cities isn?t just an eyesore; it very well may be contributing to the prevalence of childhood obesity today, according to some studies on the impact of urban growth patterns. Communities need to create ?active environments? that will promote a healthy, active lifestyle for our kids and encourage activities such as biking.

In many large cities, parks and playgrounds where children once played are often squeezed out by office buildings and condominiums. Sprawling suburbs have made it impossible for most students to walk or ride a bike to school. And in some communities, crowded neighborhoods have led to unsafe pathways and make visiting nearby friends more difficult.

As a result of these adverse urban growth patterns, most school-age kids are getting less of the daily exercise we once took for granted. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found participation in P.E. classes for 9th through 12th graders dropped from 42 percent to 29 percent from 1991 to 1997. The decline in organized fitness activities, combined with a lack of exercise at home, makes it safe to assume many young people are not getting the sixty minutes of daily exercise recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General.

While the causes of childhood obesity are varied, a reduction in time spent on physical activities, as well as the increase in sedentary lifestyles, are important factors to consider. Mixed land use helps encourage greater amounts of exercise by developing inviting paths for walking and biking.

Many local leaders have taken notice of recent trends toward childhood obesity and are taking action. Community leaders across the country have helped form the Coalition for a Healthy and Active America (CHAA), which supports grassroots efforts to partner parents, schools, and communities to craft responsible solutions, including a rededication to physical fitness and expanded nutrition education, to the problem of childhood obesity.

CHAA encourages communities to support ?active environments.? Coalition members believe that physical activity for our youth, both during and after school, creates a healthier community. Schools can promote physical activity by ensuring they provide quality physical education throughout the school day.

Communities can create an active environment for young people by providing and sustaining walk-able communities with wide sidewalks and slower speed zones. Safe bike paths in natural settings will encourage children to take a daily ride with friends. Local communities can also provide clean and safe parks and recreational areas for children to play after school.

Developing active environments is good policy for the whole community: families are attracted to more ?livable? neighborhoods; businesses can locate nearby and take advantage of the new population growth; and the ensuing increase in exercise means healthier families.

The Coalition for a Healthy and Active America encourages you to find out more on creating active environments in your community. It?s a modern solution to meet the modern challenges of urban growth.

CHAA coalitions have already formed in more than a dozen states across the country, including Missouri. For more information on how you can get involved, please visit www.chaausa.org or e-mail missouri@chaausa.org.