Want To Tackle The Childhood Obesity Epidemic? Then We Need To Build More Parks.

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"Want To Tackle The Childhood Obesity Epidemic? Then We Need To Build More Parks."

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Mayors from across the country unanimously passed a resolution this week supporting new public parks and outdoor recreation programs to promote healthy urban areas and combat childhood obesity. The bipartisan resolution adopted at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors supports full funding and reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a program designed to promote the establishment and protection of outdoor spaces.

The resolution states that “children living near parks have greater opportunities to be physically active by running, walking or participating in other recreational activities, thereby helping to combat the problem that one in three children in the U.S. are overweight or obese.” The measure also urges “[m]ayors to raise awareness of the need for greater public and private investment in parks and green space to create healthy, walkable and sustainable cities.”

The Mayors also highlighted other potential solutions for the obesity epidemic, passing resolutions promoting bicycling programs and a sustainable food production system.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price (R), sponsor of the LWCF resolution and co-chair of the Mayors for Parks coalition, has been a strong advocate for full funding for the program. In March, Price stated that “a fully funded LWCF will mean that in Fort Worth, and in cities across America, mayors will be better equipped to rise to the challenge of providing enough open space to sustain vibrant communities.”

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has also publicly praised the LWCF, calling it “one of the Nation’s most effective tools for expanding access for hunting and fishing, creating ball fields and other places for children to play and learn.”

The Obama Administration has been increasingly active in the push for increased outdoor recreation to encourage healthy lifestyles to kids across the country, particularly through the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, which is focused on conservation and increasing access to outdoor spaces. As part of the initiative, the President annually declares June as Great Outdoors Month. In the Presidential Proclamation this year, the President stated that the Administration is “working to bring public lands into the classroom and to extend educational opportunities to millions of children,” and, through the First Lady’s Let’s Move Outside! Campaign, is “encouraging children to get active while getting to know the great outdoors.”

The importance of encouraging young people to explore the outdoors is also the focus of this year’s Great Outdoors America Week (GO Week), an annual event hosted in Washington D.C. promoting conservation and outdoor recreation. As part of GO Week, the Children & Nature Network, Nature Leaders Network and the office of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) hosted a Congressional briefing on Tuesday focused on strategic ways to promote outdoor recreation, particularly among Latino youth, in the face of “the growing disconnect between people and nature” and “the obesity epidemic in the U.S.”

The LWCF resolution passed by the Conference of Mayors this week highlights health benefits of the national policy that promote outdoor recreation. Established in 1965, the LWCF was designed to use portions of revenue from oil and gas production to protect public lands and encourage the creation of spaces for recreation. Since its formation, the program has created countless new local parks, trails, and recreation areas, in addition to protecting some of the nation’s most iconic public lands such as Yellowstone National Park.

The Mayors’ resolution urges Congress to fully fund and reauthorize the LWCF at $900 million per year and allocate $25 million to fund the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Program, which focuses on assistance to underserved urban communities, as proposed in President Obama’s FY 2015 budget. Despite widespread support for full funding, Congressional appropriations for the LWCF have continued to drop in recent years. The program will expire on September 30, 2015 without action by Congress.

While the passage of the Mayors’ resolution offers progress for national outdoor recreation policy, childhood obesity rates have more than doubled over the past 30 years. In 2012, over one third of American children and teens were overweight or obese, and those kids are more likely to struggle with obesity into adulthood. Nonetheless, other policies directed at combating childhood obesity have faced an uphill battle; a recent effort to make school lunches healthier has been plagued with controversy, and House Republicans have threatened to vote to weaken those new nutrition standards.

Claire Moser is the Research and Advocacy Associate with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress.

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