Last summer, I started a program called Philly Play right here in the Northeast. I did so because I was concerned about both the lack of access and information surrounding active play and the growing rate of childhood obesity in our city. We held play-oriented events around the 6th District, hosted community conversations around play and health and ended with a block-long street festival for families.
Recently, City Council expanded Philly Play to recreation centers in each of the 10 Council districts through specialized programming made available to two sets of children through the summer: those who attend summer camp programs at those centers and kids who don’t have the opportunity to.
The effort is important for two reasons: nearly one-third of Philadelphia’s children are overweight or obese, and many more simply don’t have access to resources to help them play and be healthy. This is part of a larger and growing nationwide epidemic.
Sixty percent of our nation’s youth (age 5-to-20) have at least one cardiovascular risk factor, such as high blood pressure – and one-quarter have two factors. If these trends continue unabated, 65 million more people will be obese by 2030. This would place a huge strain on both their quality of life and our economy, causing a projected $580 billion loss in economic activity over that same time frame.
Through Philly Play, we can start to remedy these issues by focusing on the root causes right at home in our own city: through education and access.
Every parent or guardian wants the best for their kids. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what you look like or what your education is. If you are a parent, you want your kids to be healthy. That is a fundamental and unshakable truth of parenthood. However, that alone is not enough to raise healthy kids.
I can afford to put my kids through sports and activities that cost money and teach them healthy nutritional choices. I have a staff that keeps me informed about issues surrounding childhood health and obesity prevention. In short, I’m lucky. Many parents don’t have money, information or access to these same resources. Many are working two jobs, just trying to make ends meet.
That’s why Philly Play is so important. It can expand access to play and nutritional education to more families at a time when the impact would be greatest: early childhood. At the same time, recess time is among the many casualties of the continued budget cuts facing the School District of Philadelphia. Philly Play can help to bridge that gap.
The six-week programming will expand access to active play opportunities for as many children as possible and educate them and their parents on how important play is to a child’s development. But that programming is just one part of Philly Play.
In addition, Philly Play will host Pop Up Play events at sites across the city for families to play together. It will end with the inaugural Philly Play Summer Challenge event on Aug. 13 at our own Vogt Recreation Center, where children from across the city will be encouraged to show the skills they learned over the summer and compete in events across skill levels.
Each of my colleagues in City Council has pledged support and enthusiastic participation to Philly Play. Their partnership is the foundation on which Philly Play can truly grow. They know their districts and communities best, which will help connect more parents and kids to the best play areas and opportunities in their neighborhoods.
Philly Play also wouldn’t be possible without the many great organizations already promoting these same core issues. Groups like Health Promotion Council, the Department of Parks and Recreation, Drexel University – all important Philly Play partners – and others work diligently to improve the lives and health outcomes of Philadelphians day-in and day-out. Philly Play brings them all together under one umbrella.
The fundamental message behind Philly Play is fun – to get out and enjoy the wealth of free play resources Philadelphia offers while building toward healthier behaviors. So get out there, and make Philly your playground! ••
Councilman Bobby Henon represents the 6th District in the Northeast. Learn more about Philly Play by visiting www.phillyplay.org, following PhillyPlay on Facebook and Twitter or calling 267-588-7286.