Advocacy Update: Reducing Obesity through Recreation: Park and Recreation Agencies Need Increased Federal Funding to Support Efforts to Reduce Health Problems

Article excerpt

NRPA has a long history of working with federal policymakers to devise strategies to prevent obesity and its resulting health consequences, and to help reverse the trend toward inactivity in the U.S. We have advocated for federal programs, developed alternative approaches to combating obesity, and have helped to identify contributing environmental and social factors that could lead to obesity. As the federal government continues to develop new programs to combat obesity, NRPA will continue to seek partnerships and alliances to further the government's efforts. NRPA supports federal anti-obesity programs that positively impact the environment and have the potential to improve the daily lives of Americans.

While America is confronted with an obesity crisis that threatens our nation's health, economy and future, it is important that physical activity is seen as a viable strategy for disease prevention and health promotion for all people. Nearly 119 million adults, representing 65 percent of the population, are currently overweight or obese. About 15 percent of children are overweight, a condition that increases the risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. Estimates for the direct and indirect costs of obesity range from $51.5 to $78.5 billion per year.

Public parks and recreation facilities offer low-cost opportunities to all Americans of every age, ability and income level to increase their daily amount of physical activity and thus prevent chronic health conditions. Also, most physical activity among children occurs outside of the school setting. Community sports and recreation programs can complement the efforts of schools by providing children opportunities to engage in the types and levels of physical activity that may not be offered in school.

Many federal policymakers recognize the important role that public parks and recreation agencies can--and do--play in addressing the obesity epidemic; however, NRPA will continue to educate and guide policymakers toward the most appropriate strategies directed toward the most appropriate settings. Federal policymakers have just begun to develop initiatives to combat obesity and to promote the general population's health and well-being. These tactics generally fall into one of three categories:

Public education campaigns targeted at individual behavior change

* The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) VERB Campaign uses media outlets and community events to encourage children to be physically active. Despite achieving its goal of increasing the amount of free-time physical activity for targeted children, the president decided to terminate funding for this program in his budget request for next year. NRPA's advocacy efforts to secure $70 million for this program resulted in saving the program from termination, but only securing $11.2 million in funds from the House.

* Federal policymakers have made progress toward helping to provide healthy choices for Americans. Nutrition resources provided by the federal government include the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the newly revised Food Guide Pyramid. Proper food intake can be self-monitored by referring to the Nutrition Facts label, an information system provided by the Food and Drug Administration. NRPA supported funding allocations for all of these federal programs and battled congressional and executive branch efforts to reduce appropriations toward these programs.

Treatment of obesity-related diseases

* The CDC's Division of Physical Nutrition and Physical Activity has provided funds for 23 states to implement a program to prevent obesity. Despite NRPA's advocacy efforts to obtain $70 million to fund this program, Congress only allocated $49.9 million for this program for next year. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also conducts obesity-related research, and has a budget of $440 million for 2005 to guide scientific research in this area. …

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