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Scrapbook: The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act: Bringing Families Back to Nature

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November 22, 2011

The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act: Bringing Families Back to Nature

After indulging in a day of turkey and football, many families will be looking for ways to get off the couch and into the outdoors this Thanksgiving weekend. Unfortunately, many families still lack access to safe and healthy outdoor activities.

That’s why Representative Ron Kind (WI) and Senator Mark Udall (CO) recently introduced the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act (HKOA). The objective of HKOA is to get more children connected to the outdoors and help them develop a healthy lifestyle at an early age. The bill would not only address childhood obesity by giving more kids access to outdoors activities, but this legislation would also allow children to grow a stronger connection with nature.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last thirty years, and more than a third of all children are considered overweight or obese. HKOA would provide state-level incentives to develop 5-year strategies to reconnect children and families with nature. This legislation will help get Americans active outdoors through natural play and outdoor recreation such as camping, hiking, hunting and fishing. The bill would also support public health initiatives, outdoor learning environments, service learning and other initiatives. The Departments of Public Health, Parks and Recreation, and Transportation, would be encouraged to play a role in developing the state initiatives.

“For many years, I have been concerned with the increase in sedentary and nature deficient lifestyles among Americans, especially among our youth,” Rep. Ron Kind wrote in a recent blog post. “Kids today spend less time outdoors than any other generation in history. As a result, more kids are overweight and obese and suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression than ever before.”

“Today, in the wake of the Information Technology Age, we are suffering from associated unhealthy lifestyle behaviors including physical inactivity and poor diet,” states the National Park Service’s Healthy Parks Healthy People Strategic Action Plan, “There is an increasing disconnect between communities and natural environments that is contributing to health problems and chronic disease. Studies are increasingly suggesting unique benefits to getting outside and being active.” The National Park Service has traditionally addressed environmental and conservation issues and have recently started to encourage people to get outdoors to improve their health.

In September, through the Sierra Club’s Great Outdoors America Week, Gwen Miller came to Washington D.C. for the first time to advocate for the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act. Gwen lives in Lombard, Illinois, and is a volunteer with the Club’s Inner City Outings program which allows kids who live in the city of Chicago the opportunity to experience the outdoors. “We would kill two birds with one stone by finding ways to get kids outside more often,” said Gwen in a letter to the editor published in the Daily Herald, “Children would be more active and develop healthier habits, while creating a lifelong bond to the outdoors.” That’s a big reason why Gwen says she’s “thrilled” that Rep. Kind and Sen. Udall introduced the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act and spent her time in DC urging more members of Congress to show that they care about improving kids’ mental and physical health and preserving our green spaces.

“Through our Mission Outdoors programs, we have witnessed shy children grow into leaders from the confidence they gain after hiking up a mountain,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, “We have seen military kids get a much needed break from the daily stress they face when one of their parents deploys by spending a week outdoors at summer camp. But fewer kids are spending time outdoors and many don't have the opportunity to get outdoors. Rep. Kind and Sen. Udall's bill could help reverse this trend, improve our kids' health and open up a new world for them."

Reconnecting children and families with the natural world will benefit our children, our economy and our environment. Kids who spend time outdoors are more likely to be physically fit then their sedentary peers. Healthy kids lead to healthy adults, and a healthier society will reduce healthcare costs in the long run. Children who get outdoors will be able to develop a greater connection to nature, which means they’ll be more inclined to protect the environment when they grow up.

The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act not only promotes a healthy lifestyle, but it will help boost our economy and protect our environment. The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act is supported by OAK (Outdoors Alliance for Kids), a national alliance co-founded by Sierra Club to promote the value of outdoor experiences for children, youth and families.

-- Paige Esterkin, Media Intern


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