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First Lady Obama addresses childhood obesity

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Yesterday, at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting, First Lady Michelle Obama discussed the importance of healthy eating and physical activity initiatives to help combat childhood obesity in the U.S.

In her speech, she outlined how the removal of play from children’s lives has seriously reduced the amount of physical activity they get every day, and how that play deficit was hurting both children and communities. She then went on to call on mayors to work together with different parties to ensure that children got enough wholesome food and physical activity to stay healthy. 

One program that already unites communities around the importance of safe places to play is Playful City USA, a program that gets kids active and healthy through play by providing mayors with proven strategies, best practices and tools that bring public and private sectors together and engage citizens. Playful City USA is already in place in 93 communities across the country and yielding impressive results. Many U.S. Conference of Mayors’ cities have already signed on to the program and are sharing their successes.

In particular, Playful City USA Arlington, Texas received a special nod from the First Lady. “Mayor Robert Cluck of Arlington, Texas – who’s also a doctor, by the way – has been working to get kids more physically active, giving out pedometers at the end of the school year so they can track their steps over summer vacation.”

Mrs. Obama has been noting the importance of play for a healthy childhood for some time and worked with KaBOOM! in 2009, saying that KaBOOM!’s vision of “… playgrounds for kids within walking distance of their homes will … help these children live healthier lives.” 

Playful City USA communities are leading the way in the fight against childhood obesity by developing innovative solutions and strategies to address this crisis. 

Another Playful City USA community, Las Cruces, N.M., has instituted a free program call Recess Before Lunch. Ken Miyagishima, the Mayor from Las Cruces, says that this program led to a significant improvement in healthy eating habits for the students, a reduction in food waste and better focus in the classroom after lunch. Mayor Miyagishima is also on the Children’s Health and Human Services Committee for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative is working to ensure that all city residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park or playground. Working with the Trust for Public Lands, PlaNYC is working to transform 165 schoolyards into playgrounds. So far, PlaNYC has created or enhanced more than 250 neighborhood parks in New York City, investing roughly $200 million in land purchases and in the design, construction and stewardship of parks.

Playful City USA community St. Petersburg, Fla. instituted the Play n’ Close to Home program that ensured that every child in the city had a playground within a safe half-mile walk. By building playgrounds and using public-private partnerships to open up existing playground to pubic use, Play n’ Close to Home provides almost all of St. Petersburg’s youngest residents with a great place to play every day.

By focusing on the role of play in the physical activity children receive every day, Playful City USA communities are answering the First Lady’s call to action. They’re uniting their communities and putting their children’s health first. And their efforts couldn’t come soon enough. According to a recent Harris Interactive study, 59% of parents and 69% of low-income parents report there is no playground in their neighborhood, and according to a 2009 study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 16.3 % of children and adolescents between the ages of two and 19 are obese, and 31.0% were either overweight or at risk of becoming so. 

With healthy living programs such as these to emulate, conference attendees have access to a host of practical and playful initiatives to choose from as they work to answer the First Lady’s call to action.

For more information on KaBOOM! and Playful City USA, go to www.kaboom.org/playfulcityusa.

About KABOOM!
KABOOM! is the national non-profit that works to achieve playspace equity. Kids who don’t have access to play miss out on childhood and are denied critical opportunities to build physical, social and emotional health. And all too often, it more deeply affects communities of color. So we amplify the power of communities to build inspiring playspaces that spark unlimited opportunities for every kid, everywhere. KABOOM! has teamed up with partners to build or improve 17,000+ playspaces, engage more than 1.5 million community members and bring joy to more than 11 million kids. To learn about our goal to end playspace inequity for good, visit kaboom.org and join the conversation at twitter.com/kaboom, facebook.com/kaboom, and instagram.com/kaboom.