The statistics are staggering.
In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that stated more than one third of American children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
Over the past 30 years, obesity has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents. This news may not come as a surprise to parents who see their own kids spending far more time indoors watching screens than they ever did when they were growing up. The fact is, times and demographics have changed in the last quarter century, and children just don’t play outside with neighborhood kids like they used to.
But all is not lost. One recommendation given by researchers, advocacy groups and pediatricians for reversing childhood obesity is to increase children’s physical activity and outside play.
To that end, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) has secured unanimous approval for “Passport” to a Healthier Childhood, a new initiative that will encourage children to start moving by visiting, exploring, and getting active in Suffolk County parks.
The passport is the third piece of a multi-pronged health initiative Hahn has spearheaded for Suffolk County parks.
“The first piece was making sure we had healthy food options at the parks’ concession stands and vending machines,” says Hahn. “The second piece was the parks prescription program, which has doctors prescribing activities in country parks for their patients who need to get active.”
“This third piece is for kids,” she adds.
The proposal, which is similar to the children’s passport program offered by the National Park Service, calls for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation to design a passport-like sticker or stamp book which will be offered to young visitors at all Suffolk County Parks.
“The passport hasn’t been created yet, but it will be a downloadable passport or kids can get it from the park staff,” explains Hahn. “They can also collect downloadable images and stickers which they can put into their passport books.”
“We’ll make kids part of this as well,” adds Hahn. “For each park, I want to have a unique image or sticker and would like to get schools and scout troops involved in designing the image for their local parks.”
Once the program is fully implemented, children who visit a county park, beach or campground in season will receive the unique logo stamp or sticker from that park to add to their passport.
The Suffolk County Legislature has already approved the imitative and Hahn expects County Executive Steve Bellone to sign the bill within a couple weeks.
When asked if she expects the passports to be available this season, Hahn responds, “There’s a lot to do before we get going and this summer might be too ambitious. But we’ll ask schools and scouting troops to help.”
Going forward, Hahn also envisions local organizations taking an active role in the county’s health initiative program.
“I think what we need to do is encourage local community groups to partner with the parks department to create activities for kids,” says Hahn. “We want to get all we can out of our parks and we want more users there.”
“This initiative has a dual focus,” she adds. “To educate kids about getting healthy, but also have them see what’s in their backyard.”
“You don’t have to travel to find beautiful beaches, great places to kayak, canoe and bicycle ride,” says Hahn. “With over 46,000 acres of parkland managed by Suffolk County alone, there is no shortage of ways for families to get outside and explore the nearly limitless recreational pursuits just outside of their doors.”