We Can’t Run Away From Shocking Obesity Statistics, but Getting Outside is a Step in the Right Direction

While 90 degree temperatures were the deciding factor in leaving my bike locked up, walking sneakers in the closet, and metro card in hand this morning, I could not help but think about how lucky I am to have the option to exercise while commuting safely to work by bicycle or by foot.

A new report was released last week which outlined how obesity threatens America’s future. The report revealed that obesity rates climbed over the past year in 16 states, and not a single state reported a decline in the proportion of excessively overweight residents. Over 2 million children in America are obese and more than 30 % of people in more than 12 states are obese. In only four years, ELEVEN states joined that startling statistic. This dramatic shift over just a few years is frightening, so I couldn’t help but wonder, what is causing this striking change?

While iPads, 3D TV’s, video games, and computer games are all glamorous accomplishments by modern technology, time spent outdoors playing, biking, hiking, walking, etc. has progressively taken a back seat. Children ages three to twelve spend 1 % of their time outdoors, and 27 % of their time just watching TV. Incredibly, children are now actually GAINING weight over summer break! A time once spent solely on outdoor activities like swimming, hiking,and just being outside, is now putting American children’s health at risk.

Granted, childhood obesity is certainly a complex multi-faceted problem, which needs to be tackled from a variety of angles. However, a very easily-identifiable starting point is increasing the amount of time we spend outdoors, whether it’s playing, sightseeing, or even something as routine as commuting to work or school. So how do we address these issues in a meaningful way as a nation?

Luckily, Michelle Obama has made this issue a priority and launched the Let’s Move Outside campaign in a fight to address and end the childhood obesity epidemic. The First Lady rightly points out,

“Today, children experience a very different lifestyle. Walks to and from school have been replaced by car and bus rides. Eight to eighteen year old adolescents are spending an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media instead of going outside.”

While the First Lady has brought the sweeping obesity epidemic to our nation’s attention, key Congressional leaders are taking steps to cut off dedicated federal funding for bicycling and walking; a cut that impacts both recreation but also safety.

House Transportation Chairman John Mica (R-FL) announced today that his transportation bill will eliminate dedicated funding for bicycling and walking, including Transportation Enhancements, Safe Routes to School and the Recreational Trails Program. This will discourage states from choosing to spend their dollars on these activities that are “not in the federal interest.”

Not in the federal interest? Funding for biking and walking projects only accounts for 1.5% of the federal transportation budget and yet make up 12 percent of all trips in the US. The spending by our government shows us very clearly that they’re not interested in investing in fun and low-cost ways for people to work towards a healthy lifestyle by only allowing us funding to support more than 4 billion bicycle trips and 40 billion walking trips a year, including trips to work, school, shopping and for recreation and tourism.

Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), the lead Republican negotiator on the transportation bill, declared that one of his TOP THREE priorities for the transportation bill is to eliminate ‘frivolous spending for bike trails.’

Frivolous? In the past 6 months, TWO of my fellow co-workers were badly injured while riding their bikes to work because of the lack of safe biking trails in Washington, DC. Need more numbers? Two-thirds of all pedestrian deaths are on federally funded highways. One-third of children’s traffic deaths happen when children are walking or bicycling and are struck by cars. Bicycling and walking programs build sidewalks, crosswalks and bikeways—improving accessibility and saving lives. Any transportation cuts that affect the safety of children who opt to work/bike to school instead of taking the bus or car, should be targeted as negligent, short sighted and costly in the long run.

Cutting the funding to these programs not only makes it more difficult to encourage youth to get outside and walk or bike safely but it ultimately limits transportation alternatives, leaving no choice but to jump in a car. When obesity-associated annual hospital costs for children and youth are tripling over just a decade, we have a problem. If we expect people to adjust their lifestyles, they need clean, safe places to go outdoors and safe routes to get there.

What could be more of a federal priority than the health and well being of our children? Is cutting a that incredibly small figure of 1.5% of the federal transportation budget showing us how little the government cares about the health and wellness of our future workforce? Does the cost of bike trails really compare to the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of obesity associated hospital cost for children and youth? How short sighted is Congress to think that it is OK to spend millions/billions of dollars on health care costs for children and adults for obesity-related illnesses while not spending even a fraction of this cost for recreation improvements that would serve as preventative measure and limit obesity related disease?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a statistic, so I’m going to grab my bike and hit the trails before the feds take them away!

Join me, and take action: Contact your Members of Congress!

Join in the mission to advocate for and promote safe bicycling and walking to and from schools and in everyday life throughout the United States.

Learn more about the Be Out There movement to get kids outside. Find outdoor games, activities, and health tips for your children this summer!