Healthy Kids Get Outdoors

Canoe kid in the water with canoe outdoorsThere’s a new bill introduced in the US Senate that authorizes “the Secretary of the Interior to carry out [state and local] programs and activities that connect Americans, especially children, youth, and families, with the outdoors.” It’s called the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act of 2011 and was introduced by Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, and co-sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin.

Prompting this legislation is a growing concern that American children are increasingly sedentary, spending most of their time indoors, and overweight. A wide range of studies show our kids are addicted to electronic media, watching on average 7.5 hours per day. Obesity and its related health problems are closely related to this. And now, seeing that kids are spending on average less than 10 minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play, an alarming trend is appearing. There’s even some worry that an unhealthy American population would be a national security threat given how many overweight people would be disqualified from military service.

The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act would combat these trends by funding state and local organizations in their efforts to get kids outdoors, to encourage active outdoor experiences. Here too, studies show outdoor activity yielding incredible public health, local economic and national conservation benefits. Seeking these benefits, this legislation would provide up to $15 million dollars of matching funds to sponsor programs and infrastructure that effectively connect Americans, especially kids, with outdoor experiences.

Of course, we are cheering this legislation! At an outdoor summer camp like Rockbrook, we know and celebrate the wonders of outdoor experience everyday. We spend most of our time (not just 10 minutes!) outside, actively engaged in dozens of activities.

At camp, we know all about the benefits to kids of outdoor activity. It’s nice to see those same benefits being championed nationally.

SUCCESS Act – H.R. 5963

Summer Camp Girls Success

Have you heard of the SUCCESS Act (H.R. 5963), a bill introduced last year by US. Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York? “SUCCESS” is an acronym for (promoting) Students Using the Camp Community for Enrichment, Strength, and Success. Essentially this bill would direct the Secretary of Education to fund pilot programs exploring how the summer camp experience promotes physical activity and healthy lifestyles among children and youth, reduces summer learning loss, and promotes academic achievement.

It’s long been known among summer camp professionals, and among camp parents, that children who attend camp receive unique and valuable benefits. Because of camp, kids are better prepared for school when they return, are more physically fit by virtue of the activities at camp, and are more socially adept and emotionally mature (confident, independent, resilient). Likewise, it’s clear camp kids struggle less with childhood obesity and summer learning loss, two issues that are rampant and negatively impacting today’s children in America.

This legislation recognizes these benefits of a camp experience and aims to study how they can be more broadly known, made more widely available to children throughout the country, and how they can be more tightly integrated with school curricula. We know camp is powerful, but let’s talk about how and let’s get more children involved so they too can benefit from the experience. This bill would be a good step toward that goal.

The American Camp Association is promoting the SUCCESS Act as well.

Unfortunately, this bill “died” in the Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities during the 111th Congress, and thus far in the new 112th congress, it has not been reintroduced. In today’s federal budget climate, it’s hard to imagine this new congress being too excited about bolstering our nation’s public education, in even the small step the SUCCESS Act was designed to achieve. That’s a shame, you have to admit.