Healthy Kids and Communities
Yesterday, I had the honor of joining new and old colleagues working to support the health and wellbeing of communities across the country at the YMCA Healthy Communities Roundtable in Washington, DC. This was the second time I had the chance to participate in the roundtable, which has grown over the years to include sectors beyond traditional public health groups, such as conservation and recreation groups, including Sierra Club.
Through forums like the one provided by the YMCA yesterday and others, we are learning that getting kids outdoors is a win-win for the environment and for public health, providing that kids can breathe clean air when they go outside (another issue Sierra Club is aggressively tackling). Studies show that kids who experience the outdoors (especially before they reach their teenage years) are more likely to develop positive attitudes towards the environment in adulthood – something our planet desperately needs if we plan to tackle air quality issues, climate change and other ecological challenges that lie ahead.
Research also demonstrates that kids who live in greener areas are more likely to play outdoors and even have lower body mass indices. Time in nature has been shown to reduce anxiety, stress, attention deficit disorders, myopia (near-sightedness) and improve cognitive function, physical fitness and social behaviors. Groups like Sierra Club, Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) and the National Wildlife Federationparticipated in the roundtable and shared some of the research and work being done to reconnect all kids (no matter how green their neighborhoods are) with nature.
During the roundtable, I learned about other nationwide efforts to improve public health. For example, did you know that 60% of hospitals across America are non-profit and provide “Community Benefits” like supporting biking or walking trails in order to maintain their 501(c)3 tax-exempt status? This means that groups working to get kids outdoors or otherwise improving the health of a community may find willing partners in their local hospitals. Also, Community Commons, a new web-based tool to map public health efforts on the ground, promises to be the clearing house for local efforts working to reverse childhood obesity and improve community health.
Getting kids outdoors is good for the health of kids, the health of communities and the health of our planet. Learn more about Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors programs that are reconnecting America with the outdoors, and take a kid outdoors this weekend – you’ll both be healthier for it!
---by Jackie Ostfeld, Sierra Club's National Youth Representative