When children go outside or to a playground to play they are doing more than just burning off energy, or staying out of their parent’s way. Play helps children develop confidence and social skills and maintain physical fitness. Play also allows parents supervising to offer guidance, model appropriate behavior in the playground setting, and build memories that will last a lifetime. In fact, the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has recognized play as a right for every child in the world so that he or she can maximize intellectual, physical, social, and emotional development.
Unfortunately, a number of factors have come together in recent years that make American childhood less healthy and carefree than it was a generation or two ago. Due to budget constraints, school systems have been forced to cut back on physical education classes, making it more likely than ever that a child will be driven or bused to school, will sit in classrooms for six or seven hours, and then will be transported back home. Additionally, break and lunch offerings often consist of high calorie foods.
With so many children spending their evenings playing video games or watching television, it is no mystery why childhood obesity rates have risen. From 2003-2006, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 16.3% of children aged 2-19 were obese, which is defined as being at or above the 95th percentile of the BMI (body mass index) charts based on age.
Healthy People 2010, managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is a series of national health objectives with the goals of identifying the biggest preventable threats to health, and establishing goals to reduce those threats. One of the goals of Healthy People 2010 is reducing obesity among adults to less than 15% of the population and among children and adolescents to less than 5% of the population.
The typical American child needs to play outdoors every day if possible for optimum health and development, but many children are not able to do so through no fault of their own. For example, a child may live too far away from a greenway or playground to be able to go there on foot. Sometimes the equipment they have access to is dilapidated or even dangerous. Children who have access to safe, sturdy outdoor fitness equipment have one less reason to spend the afternoon or weekend indoors and sedentary.
With all the innovative designs that have been introduced in recent years, outdoor play areas for all children, including those with disabilities are starting to become reality. With proper surface preparation, children in wheelchairs can access play equipment and participate in many more outdoor fitness activities with their peers than they ever could before.
Engineered wood fiber, rubber chips, rubber tiles, and soft, poured-in-place surfaces all meet guidelines of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but poured-in-place surfaces, rubber based compounds that are mixed and poured on-site are the easiest surfaces for children in wheelchairs to navigate. Since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and teens be physically active for 60 minutes a day, communities with fun, accessible playgrounds full of accessible and challenging apparatus have an enormous advantage in keeping today’s children and tomorrow’s adults fit.