Philly Play will help remedy child obesity

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.philly­, fol­low­ing Philly­Play on Face­book and Twit­ter or call­ing 267-588-7286. 

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