• Sumo

By Ken Reed

America has a childhood obesity crisis on its hands.

Video games, social media options, the decline in school-based physical education and intramural sports, and lack of access to parks and recreation facilities have all contributed to an increase in physical inactivity among young children and teenagers. Research shows that inactive kids have a high likelihood of becoming inactive adults. And physical inactivity increases the risks for a variety of diseases, while also boosting the nation’s healthcare costs.

As such, getting our young people moving more frequently needs to be a high socio-cultural priority across the United States. Fortunately, a growing number of communities are taking this issue seriously and have developed creative ways to take playgrounds to where high-risk kids live.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana (a state with the fourth-highest rate of youth obesity in the nation), the Baton Rouge Recreation agency (BREC) bought a box delivery truck, painted it with bright colors and filled it with scooters, hula-hoops, balls, slack lines, trampolines, sidewalk chalk and jump ropes. BREC then began taking the mobile playground to housing complexes, churches, parks and schools in low-income neighborhoods.

“We realized it wouldn’t take much to get kids moving if we put it right in front of them,” said Diane Drake, director of BREC’s playground on wheels. Drake said the program was an immediate success. Mobile playground days were highly anticipated by local children.

“Once word spread, children would come running out of their apartments as soon as we pulled into the parking lot,” Drake said. “It was all we could do to unload the equipment before they grabbed it and ran off.”

BREC officials took their mobile playground to a meeting of the National Recreation and Park Association in Charlotte and discovered there were a lot of towns and cities interested in the program. Copycat programs have started to spring up in other communities around the country.

The mobile playground concept is certainly making kids happier and it’s also meeting its goal of getting kids moving more often. Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center found that these types of programs increase kids’ physical activity by about 50 percent.

The only thing stopping the mobile playground idea from spreading more rapidly around the country is funding. Many recreation departments just don’t have the dollars to start a mobile playground program. BREC’s initial funding of $110,000 came from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation and BREC’s local parish budget.

Here’s hoping more corporate sponsors and philanthropists see the benefits of mobile playgrounds and step up with the necessary funding to rapidly expand the mobile playground concept.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans

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