Fighting Obesity: Recreation, Parks and Community Services Department Leaders Join Forces
Don Schatzel is administrator for the Rio Linda and Elverta Recreation and Park District and president of the League’s Recreation, Parks and Community Services Department. He can be reached at email@example.com. Special thanks to the California Parks and Recreation Society, which also contributed to this article.
Obesity presents a growing threat to the health and well-being of California’s children and adults. One of the major contributing factors to obesity is a lack of physical activity, and for many people, getting enough exercise can be a challenge.
- Recognize that improving the community’s health is a long-term goal that will take strategic planning and collaboration.
- Require collaboration within governmental units. All discussions about community health should include parks and recreation, planning, public works, transportation, public health and schools; they all play an important role. Invite other governmental agencies to participate — it takes a broad-based effort to make a difference.
- Train staff about the issues associated with fighting obesity and where to find technical and funding assistance.
- Engage key partners, including the school districts, the medical profession and the local chamber of commerce.
- Commit funding for an extended period. It requires both time and money to make improvements.
- Focus on neighborhood cohesiveness and safety. Research shows that residents walk more if they feel safe and know people in the neighborhood. Ways to introduce residents to their neighbors include special events, neighborhood cleanups and “walking school buses.”
- Commit to increasing access to existing spaces for physical activity. Address joint use issues with school boards and administrators, so that school facilities can be made available in the evenings and on weekends and holidays. Build parks next to schools and schools next to parks. Plan and fund joint facilities, such as tracks, swimming pools and ball fields. Conduct an inventory to identify all the spaces and places for physical activity in your community and identify unmet needs.
- Educate, educate, educate. Remember that the food industry spends $1.3 trillion annually on marketing. Recognize the diversity in your community by placing signs and messages in multiple languages to educate residents and promote awareness about the benefits of active living.
- Make policy changes. Require that vending machines in all public buildings contain products that are consistent with state guidelines for food served in schools. Unlock the stairwells so employees and the public can use the stairs. Add bike racks and lockers to encourage employees and citizens to use bicycles rather than cars.
- Address safety and security concerns. Examine issues such as street lighting, bicycle lanes, landscaping, and park and building design. Consider implementing Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) concepts when planning and designing public spaces.