Many people reading this editorial probably grew up during a time when “playing” – physical activity with other children – was the norm. Somehow, whether through helicopter parenting, the need for “play dates,” children’s growing inability to tear away from their electronic devices and other concerns, playing became a lost art.
As a result, some of today’s children will grow into adulthood overweight and subject to the early onset of diseases more often associated with middle age.
There is an economic impact on society when young adults fall chronically ill of preventable diseases and rack up persistent medical bills or drop out of the workforce entirely.
The Ralph C. Wilson Junior Foundation and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo released “State of Play,” a 44-page report by the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program focusing on youth sports in the eight counties in Western New York.
The results, based on interviews, roundtables, focus groups and surveys of more than 1,065 local adults and kids, were disappointing; an overall C-plus grade for the region when it comes to getting kids active in sports. That is not good enough.
One of the startling findings shows that just 16 percent of local youths under 18 are getting the recommended hour of daily physical activity. The report also shows that 7,500 fewer kids would be overweight or obese if the region can get that percentage up to 25.
Families living in low-income neighborhoods have voiced concerns about safety and security for their children. This is not to say that middle-income families have no concerns. But kids should be able to play, freely and without concern. Adults need to make that happen.
The report offered suggestions:
• More, and better, places to play. The region boasts 853 community sports facilities hosting more than 31 sports but far fewer outside Erie and Niagara counties. The report suggested upgrading sports facilities, particularly in the City of Buffalo.
• Think big. The region should consider a limited naming rights program for public parks. Why not? The public has gotten used to professional sports complexes adorned with sponsor names. As the report states, public park naming rights could raise money without being “garish.”
• Buffalo also should take into consideration an indoor complex for the winter months, although the report also discusses the opportunity through community schools. Public-private partnerships could be helpful.
Health insurers have also played a large role throughout the region when it comes to getting young and old moving.
The report – at RCWJRF.org/StateofPlay – also urges adults to listen to the kids, reintroduce free play, encourage a variety of sports and train coaches to be experts at the sports kids are interested in.
It’s up to the adults who benefited from their own play time to help the kids realize fun is not just from a smartphone or at the end of a video game controller.