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Playing Outside: Important For Children’s (And Adults’) Health

2009 December 29

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I’m sure you’ve heard about the record amount of snow that the DC area got this past weekend. As a native Bostonian, and a recent resident of northern New England, I get excited about big snow storms, particularly an unusual one such as this!

Mostly, I like snow storms because I like playing outside. As a kid, I’d often join up with friends at a favorite sledding hill or build forts for snowball fights. These days, I try to grab my skis (cross-country or telemark) as quickly as possible, though I sometimes settle for just tromping around. An important ingredient for these activities is some amount of nearby (ideally hilly) open space, parks or woods. These areas are also favorite spots for me during the non-snowy seasons for running, walking, birding, and biking. I’ve been really lucky to live in places where I could access public open space pretty easily. A lot of neighborhoods don’t have those areas available for kids and adults to enjoy.

Given that childhood obesity has tripled among adolescents and extensive efforts are underway to get kids to play outside more, providing open spaces for kids to be physically (and mentally) active should be more of a priority for developers, redevelopers and town planners. A lot of communities, particularly disadvantaged ones, could use more sporting fields, courts and playgrounds, so that every kid has one around the corner. Based on my experience, I think it’s important not to overlook the “informal” spaces for simply playing outdoors, too. Where else are kids going to sled when the snow falls? (No soccer field or baseball diamond I ever played on was steep enough for sledding!)

Folks here at EPA are promoting healthier communities that incorporate open spaces and recreational areas for communities. They’ve supported a lot of important research and community-level engagement efforts to promote open space and other elements of smart growth. Among other things, access to community space for recreation and outdoor exercise has been associated in some instances with declining levels of obesity, which is in part why open space provides economic benefits for communities.

I encourage you to enjoy your neighborhood’s open spaces and to ask your local officials and community leaders about getting an open space project off the ground.

About the author: Matthew H. Davis, M.P.H., is a Health Scientist in EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection, working there on science and regulatory policy as a Presidential Management Fellow since October 2009. Previously, he worked in the environmental advocacy arena, founding a non-profit organization in Maine and overseeing the work of non-profits in four other states.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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6 Responses leave one →
  1. Joseph Zummach permalink
    December 29, 2009

    “Where will the children play”

    Quality of life is so much more than security and income level. I’ve seen many gated communities that feel like prisons for children. Even the devilopments that cater to “families” have limited play spaces. I grew up where vacant lots abounded and we made full use of them as kids. Nature Deficit disorder is a sad reality today. Thanks for the post.

  2. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    December 29, 2009

    We are lucky in Mission Viejo to live in a sunurban county, Orange, but still live in a fairly rural area that includes small truck farms, ranches and everything you need in 2 to 3 blocks of where you live, almost like a little country town back in rural Indiana. Yet, still connected to the rest of the county and region by highways, a train line from San Diego to LA Union Station, and a good transit system. We also have trails, nice parks and some of the most modern playground equipment in the county in the parks. The only open space problem we have had is building a dog park. People who would be living close to it don’t want it next to the homes. And at a recent city council meeting police had to be called out to protect dog park supporters from dog park opponents. I think we will have a dog park but not close to homes. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  3. armansyahardanis permalink
    December 30, 2009

    I remembered when I was taught scouts in 70’s decade. I proud made them liked small soldiers, as a second winner in Bandung. Your post makes me “nostalgia’s” now. Thank you Kang Matthew….!!!

  4. Jackenson Durand permalink
    December 30, 2009

    Play outside is important but there are two questions to ask before going out:
    – What is the best playing area?
    – Is it this playing area would challenge us positively?

    A green area would be the best challenge area for that matter because that would reflect children or adults pshyco-physiognomy.

  5. Al Bannet permalink
    January 1, 2010

    It looks like overpopulation is catching up with you. As the economy gets growing again, more people will be moving into your area and demanding services that stretch and exhaust tax base and the environment. Good luck.

  6. Al Bannet permalink
    January 1, 2010

    On a planet that is progressively poisoning itself with ever-growing tons of human waste and garbage and running out of places to dump them, there is no longer any really safe place for children to play. Growing toxicity is slowly killing us all, and of course the children are most vulnerable.

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