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Health advocacy organization PHA combatting child obesity with Play Streets

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
child obesity, PHA, Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Play Streets

The current obesity epidemic in the US also includes the nation’s children. On November 14, the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) announced that it had partnered with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) to bring 10 “Play Streets” to 10 US cities to combat the problem.

The 10 winners were chosen based on their ongoing commitment to increasing physical activity among kids, health education and programming, sustainability of the program, and community development. They proposed a range of creative ideas for bringing the concept to life from temporary skate parks to synthetic ice skating rinks to live music and dance to including farmers markets to bike fittings, rentals and lessons, and even something called “Pumpkin Dodge Ball.”

Play Streets is one of many initiatives around the nation in which BCBSA and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are promoting prevention and wellness. Many of these programs are geared to increasing physical activity and helping people make better nutrition choices. The effort is meant to stem obesity and prevent the chronic illnesses that are linked to it. “One area of specific focus for all Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies is the health and wellness of children and reversing the trend of childhood obesity,” noted Scott P. Serota, BCBSA president and CEO. AHe added, “We are looking forward to this collaborative effort and working alongside PHA, the winning cities, the local Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies, and community leaders to help create safe, open outdoor spaces and events to encourage activity.”

The 10 cities, which will host Play Streets over the next year are: Minneapolis, Minnesota; Savannah, Georgia; Durham, North Carolina; Buffalo, New York; New Orleans, Louisiana; Omaha, Nebraska; York, Pennsylvania; San Francisco, California; Chicago, Illinois; and Caguas, Puerto Rico. Each city will host at least four Play Streets events by closing designated roads to traffic and opening them up to the community as a place to play.

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The ten winning cities will receive funds, technical assistance, and communications and marketing support from PHA, BCBSA, and the local Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies to create Play Streets events in their communities. The Play Streets program is flexible, allowing each winning city to tailor the program to its needs and resources. “Today in America, one in five kids doesn’t have access to a playground – that’s millions of children who can’t pick up a ball, run outside or have fun in a safe environment,” noted PHA President and CEO Lawrence A. Soler. He added, “These cities, with the support of BCBSA and their local Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies, have taken the first step in helping us ensure that every kid has a place to play and be active. We can’t wait to see how each city brings its Play Street to life, to see kids running around these new spaces and to hear sounds of traffic replaced by sounds of kids at play.”
Cities across the country that have created play spaces from streets have seen a positive impact. In New York City, 64 percent of the kids using Play Streets reported that, if not for the local Play Street, they would have been engaged in a sedentary activity; 71 percent reported that they walked to the Play Street, an added benefit. The same survey also pointed to the promise that Play Streets holds for local economic development: area businesses reported that foot traffic around the Play Streets increased greatly.

Play Streets is just one component of both BCBSA’s and PHA’s work to end the physical inactivity epidemic facing America. Just as there is no one cause of obesity, there is no one solution; that’s why PHA has partnered with a diverse range of organizations and companies to attack this challenge from several angles. PHA’s other physical activity programs include:

  • Creating a set of essential practices to increase the quality and quantity of youth physical activity programming in America.
  • Working with the YMCA of the USA, Bright Horizons and New Horizons Academy to limit screen time and ensure a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity for approximately 1 million children in their day care centers.
  • Partnering with Child Obesity 180 to reward innovative and impactful physical activity school programs and technologies.
  • Engaging 1.7 million children in beginner level Olympic and Paralympic sport programming through the U.S. Olympic Committee and key national governing bodies.

For more than 80 years, BCBSA notes that its projects have made a difference in the lives of the communities they serve and are committed to the fight to end childhood obesity. The following are some examples of how BCBSA are making significant impacts in the communities they serve:

  • Collectively, in 2011 Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies contributed tens of millions of dollars in direct community investments to support the health and well-being of children across the US.
  • More than 15,000 of BCBSA’s Good Health Club Physician Toolkits have been distributed across 31 states. The toolkit was developed in consultation with the American Diabetes Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics to help doctors talk with their patients and families about childhood obesity.
  • BCBSA also partners with KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to saving play for America’s children by creating play spaces across the U.S. By year-end 2012, the impact of Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies efforts with KaBOOM!, will be significant: $3.7 million in contributions; more than 9,200 community and Blue Cross and Blue Shield volunteers; 43 Playgrounds providing more than 122,500 kids and their families a place to play.
  • More information on the Play Streets program is available at this link.

    See also: Health advocacy organization PHA wants public input to fight childhood obesity epidemic