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Another Voice: Young people in WNY need more physical activity

By David O. Egner, Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker and Tom Farrey

Western New York’s recent renaissance, largely manifested in the form of optimistic attitudes and new and reimagined spaces, is cultivated by one critical piece – our people. It is their perseverance, hopefulness and resourcefulness that is helping to foster growing economic prosperity, investment confidence and inclusiveness.

It is the next generation – the youth of all ages, backgrounds, cultures and creeds – who will steward the enterprising, tenacious spirit that is redefining us. Their health, activity, productivity and enthusiasm for the future are what will keep Western New York shining bright.

It is within this context that the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation and our partners at the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo proudly unveil “State of Play in Western New York,” a report to assess the state of play for young people and sports in the eight counties of this region.

This study is anchored in the notion that everyone in the community will benefit if our children are provided access to quality sport experiences, as such immersion leads to greater cognitive function, positive mental health, better educational outcomes and greater likelihood of lifelong healthy habits.

As we reflect on the many substantial insights from this study – and there are many to highlight – one important finding stands out: few youths in Western New York are physically active enough. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends one hour of daily physical activity, but only 16 percent of Western New York’s youth reach this threshold. It is crucial to realize the profound impact that improving upon this deficit could have not only on individuals, but on our community as a whole.

If 25 percent of the region’s youths get and stay active into adulthood, 7,488 fewer youth would be overweight and obese, $127 million in direct medical costs would be saved, $135 million in productivity losses would be averted and 10,015 years of life would be saved.

Western New Yorkers must work together to fill the ever-widening gaps in opportunities for physical activity. Opening more doors to facilities after hours and weekends, training coaches and encouraging sports sampling could result in more access to activities and create places for young people to feel they belong. It is our desire to cultivate these opportunities and lend information, insight, inspiration and a helping hand in any way we can.

A full copy of the “State of Play” report for Western New York can be found at RCWJRF.org/StateofPlay. We encourage you to read it and take its findings to heart. In large part, the health of our next generation and the vibrancy of our community depend on us and the steps we take to improve Western New York’s state of play.

David O. Egner is president and CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker is president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. Tom Farrey is director of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program.

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