National Parks Can Help Make America’s Kids Healthier…and That Helps Parks, Too.

Glacier National Park in Montana (flickr | Meredith Rendall Photography)
A lot happened at America’s Summit on National Parks, which met this week in the large, confusing Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington. Its purpose was plan for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016 and talk about the future of ‘America’s Best Idea.’

But of all the sessions and events, I was especially interested in yesterday’s discussion about Health and Wellness, featuring Kevin Coyle, NWF’s VP for Education and Training.

So: what do National Parks have to do with health? I mean, other than the alarming trend of pic-a-nic basket overconsumption in Jellystone Park by overweight, wise-cracking bears?

Well, research shows that kids are spending about half as much time outside as they did 20 years ago, with many opting for heavy screen time instead (on average, about 7 or 8 hours a day). That indoor/inactive kid trend has likely contributed to an increase in childhood obesity rates and related health problems; hurt school performance; played a part in issues such as ADHD and sleep deprivation; and generally eroded our kids’ emotional wellbeing (see more reasons to get outside here).

Health problems like these warrant a multifaceted approach, but one of the best ways of getting kids outside and active (and healthier) is by using our national and state park systems. As an added benefit, getting kids out into America’s parks and engendering a love of the outdoors will give us a better chance of making sure the parks themselves are taken care of for generations to come.


We focus on kids because that’s the generation we’re losing…and when you look at those numbers, you realize there are [millions of] kids in the country…about 7 million of them are still going out on a regular basis and playing—just free play in the outdoors. We want to try and increase that by another 10 million in the next three to five years.”


There’s no future to conservation, to the National Park system, to state park systems, if [the indoor child phenomenon] continues. We’ve got to figure out how to reverse this…”



Fortunately, parks aren’t a tough sell. To read more about why your family will love visiting National Parks if they don’t already, click here.