WASHINGTON, DC – Officials from the Interior and Agriculture Departments spent the afternoon today with more than 150 school-aged children to draw attention to the health benefits of outdoor recreation and emphasize the importance of community parks, playgrounds, and open space. The event highlighted the release of the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity's Report to the President.
Interior and Agriculture are two of the thirteen federal agencies that contributed to the report, which was released by the White House on May 11. President Obama authorized the Task Force, a subgroup of the Domestic Policy Council, in February in conjunction with the launch of the First Lady's Let's Move public awareness campaign.
“Under the leadership of the President and First Lady, the Task Force has recommended an ambitious plan to combat childhood obesity within a generation,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “We are tackling all aspects of the problem, from empowering parents and caregivers, to serving healthier food in schools, to ensuring access to healthy, affordable food, to increasing physical activity.”
“We are proud to be a part of this effort,” he said. “We welcome families and children to the public lands – America's backyard – and hope they will experience the benefits, both physical and mental, of activity in the great outdoors.”
The kids, 3rd-5th graders from Kimball Elementary School in Southeast Washington, D.C., participated in a range of healthy, outdoor activities including mountain biking, hiking, and gardening. They learned how to make outdoor activity a part of their daily routines and earned a Junior Ranger Badge, a popular program that exists in nearly 300 national parks across the country.
The event took place at Fort Dupont Park, a national park that was part of Washington's Civil War defenses. Rangers from the National Park Service and the US Forest Service hosted the program in partnership with organizations including the Sierra Club, Trails for Youth, and the Earth Conservation Corps.
National Park Service Deputy Director Dan Wenk noted that the “National Park Service is proud to support Mrs. Obama' quest to get kids outside and make them happier and healthier.”
Joining Wenk was US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, who echoed the importance of outdoor recreation. “Our kids are our future, and we are very focused on our children's health and well-being at the USDA and the Forest Service,” said Chief Tidwell. “Our nation's forests and other public lands provide many diverse opportunities for kids to enjoy the natural world and all that it offers. Kids need a place to move and clear their minds, just as much as adults do, and our public lands are perfect settings for exercise and renewal."
The Task Force report notes that the poor health of many American children today is attributable in part to a generational decline in the level of outdoor recreation in natural environments. It states that children of all ages are “healthier, happier, and have better social skills if they have frequent opportunities for free and unstructured play outdoors.” Ultimately, the report recommends that children spend more time being active in the outdoors, calling upon the federal government to continue supporting “investments in a wide range of outdoor recreation venues,” including a vast array of public lands.
As the manager of one-fifth of the nation's landmass, the U.S. Department of the Interior is responsible for 551 national wildlife refuges and 392 national parks. In addition, the National Park Service has multiple community assistance programs that help states and towns create and protect recreational opportunities. The Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, oversees some 193 million acres of national forest.
Both Wenk and Tidwell emphasized the important role that parents play and encouraged the adoption of a family-wide approach to getting active in the outdoors. “We hope that families will come out together children to bike, hike, run and play in the national parks, wildlife refuges, and other outdoor places and make activity a regular part of their lives,” said Wenk,
In the coming months, the Task Force will work to implement the recommendations outlined in the report. The Departments of Interior and Agriculture will continue to coordinate their efforts to expand opportunities for physical activity in the outdoors.