September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. Obesity is one of the most significant public health problems confronting society today. One in three American children is overweight or obese. They are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, psychological problems and may be more susceptible to bullying. The financial implications of childhood obesity are sobering; approximately $14 billion is spent on health care costs annually.
For youth with disabilities the problem is even worse. Female youth with disabilities are two times more likely than female youth without disabilities to be overweight or obese. Youth with autism are 2.2 times more likely to be obese, while children with Down syndrome are three times more likely to be obese. These are just a few statistics that demonstrate the severity of the problem. Most researchers feel that these statistics are actually low and not truly representative of all children with disabilities. It’s often difficult to obtain an accurate height and weight because of spasticity, lack of adapted equipment, and other issues related to a child with a disability.
Regardless, this is a serious issue plaguing our youth. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “what are we going to do about it?”
Parents should be advocating for more accessible playgrounds. They need to be part of every playground at every elementary school across the US. It is hard enough to get children who are typically developing to get their heart rate up during recess, if a child can’t access a playground then the challenge becomes even greater.
An inclusive playground regardless of its location needs to have equipment that will give all children, including those with disabilities, the opportunity to strengthen their core, work on balance, build up their muscles, and run and move to elevate their heart rate. A playground that simply has ramps leading to a slide and a few play panels is not going to provide the increased exercise that our children desperately need.
Schools should also implement anti-bullying programs that emphasize approved behavior for activities held on the playground and in the gym. Children need to feel comfortable playing and exercising. We don’t want children sitting on the side, trying not to be seen.
Park and Recreation professionals also need to do their part and examine existing park systems to make sure there are areas designated for fitness and physical activity. Small steps taken today will help children improve their overall health and become active fit adults in the future. To learn more about National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, visit http://www.healthierkidsbrighterfutures.org/.