A Paradigm Shift in Youth Sports and Recreation Is Needed to Include More Youths with Disabilities and Health Conditions Including Obesity into the Mainstream of Sports and Recreation in America
|Time Magazine’s 2004 Special Issue on “Overcoming Obesity in America”|
Since the early 1980s, the balance of entertainment has been shifting steadily from the playground to the home. That wasn't the case in the era in which I grew up in, where there were no computers, only one TV set, and four TV stations, one of which included Public Broadcasting (PBS). Today, the incentive to remain indoors is much more alluring. Why go outside and play when you can sit in front of a computer or flat-screen TV being entertained for hours upon hours?
|Graph showing the lack of physical activity opportunities for youth with disabilities|
The Taskforce on Childhood Obesity is responsible for four primary goals: (1) ensure access to healthy and affordable food; (2) increase physical activity in schools and communities; (3) provide healthier food in schools; and (4) empower parents with information and tools to make good choices for themselves and their families. They surely have their work cut out. Grabbing a "slice of pizza and a Coke" four decades ago came with a lot less Coca Cola and a much smaller slice of the pie. Today, that conventional "slice and Coke" packs a lot more calories, with a doubling of cheese and flour and a drink three times that size. Worst of all, it's usually consumed in front of the TV or computer.
What I hope for youths who are obese or, in many cases, severely obese, and youths with disabilities who are and are not obese, is that the Task Force will consider ways to make physical activity, sports, and recreation more inclusive. During most of my 30-year career, I have experienced an enormous sense of separation in youth sports and recreation. Even in communities where there is one accessible playground (and those communities are very rare), the other six playgrounds are inaccessible to anyone who uses a wheelchair or other assistive device, including parents with disabilities who would like to have the same opportunities as other parents to play with their children.
Sports fields are no better. They are not designed with the intent of having children in wheelchairs use them, or youths who have difficulty running on uneven surfaces. A strip of 3-4' wide rubber along base paths in a Little League field would work amazingly well for many youths with disabilities. But most would argue that it's not worth the money, the same excuse given a few years ago for not spending money on curb cuts before the ADA was passed, but now everyone is using them - bikers, strollers, rollers, and luggage carriers. The rubberized foot/wheelchair path would also allow youths who are severely obese and children with weak ankles better manage the base paths.
The Task Force on Childhood Obesity needs to focus part of their attention on what's really missing from youth sports and recreation in America. My guess is that only the well-skilled, non-obese, non-disabled youths, whose parents were former athletes or really into sports, are using these ball fields. The vast majority of youths who are less skilled or have a disability are likely to be sitting on the sidelines - the same spot they were in 30 years ago.