First lady, ‘Let’s Move’ should fight for more safe parks

As widely reported, the American Medical Association (AMA) board recently voted to classify obesity as a disease. That elevated distinction is intended to spur greater urgency and opportunity for people to get treatment, including the 17 percent of U.S. children who are obese.

The AMA’s Council on Science and Public Health argued that more widespread recognition of obesity as a disease “could result in greater investments by government and the private sector to develop and reimburse obesity treatments.”

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Last week, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) joined 16 other national health and youth organizations in pointing to local parks and playgrounds as one of those critical investments.

The sedentary lifestyles of American children have contributed to the nation’s obesity crisis, particularly with increased “technology” time (television, computers and video games) and less time spent in activities, free play and simply moving about. This includes time spent at schools. Despite research pointing to the academic benefits of exercise, daily physical education programs and afterschool sports programs have been cut in many communities. In others, there is a lack of sidewalks and/or safe parks and playgrounds.

To help elevate awareness of this problem and, importantly, inspire action in the White House and Congress, the ACSM, American Heart Association, NAACP and others signed a letter to first lady Michelle Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, asking that they prioritize protection of and access to parks as a key component in the fight against childhood obesity.

The first lady’s popular “Let’s Move” initiative has had tremendous success focusing on school lunches, nutrition and exercise. But many children also need safe places to play. The little-known Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is the tool to get this done.

In addition to protecting land in America’s national parks, wildlife refuges and forests, the fund also provides matching grants for community parks, trails, skate parks, ball fields, swimming pools and playgrounds, ensuring recreational opportunities for Americans in every state in the nation. At a time when the nation is struggling to figure out how to cover rising healthcare costs, the fund gets its money from annual royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas offshore instead of taxpayer dollars.

Unfortunately, despite broad bipartisan support for the LWCF, Congress has nearly every year diverted most of the annual royalties to other purposes, dramatically and negatively impacting efforts to build safe places for children and their families to exercise and play.

With the leadership of the first lady and support from our organizations and others, we hope to secure full and permanent funding for the LWCF, a critical investment in the health of our nation’s youth and communities. With more parks, more of our children and families can get moving: walking, biking, dancing, jumping rope and playing sports.

Physical activity is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle for the entire family. Local parks and playgrounds are an essential part of the solution. “Let’s Move” together and fight for what our families and communities need for a healthy future.

Dexter is president of the American College of Sports Medicine.