Thursday, February 03, 2005

Benefits of Being Outdoors Explored - Fight Obesity In The Wild

The Knox News did a great article on how introducing a love for the outdoors to your kids may help fight the obesity epidemic.

- SD

Benefits of being outdoors explored

January 30, 2005

The obesity crisis won't be solved by better eating habits alone. People also need to exercise, and according to a national study commissioned by the Outdoor Industry Association, the sooner they start, the better.

The study - titled "Exploring the Active Lifestyle" - found that 90 percent of the current participants in outdoor activities started between the ages of 5 and 18. To Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the OIA, this proves that participation in human-powered outdoor activities is an ingrained behavior.

"The question is, what motivates kids to start these activities?" Hugelmeyer said. "Who introduces them, and how do we get more kids to participate?"

A frequent guest speaker at health conferences around the country, Hugelmeyer will be at the Knoxville Health Fair on Feb. 5 to talk about outdoor activity as an antidote to the obesity crisis, particularly among young people.

The Outdoor Industry Association provides trade services for more than 4,000 manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, sales representatives and retailers in the outdoor industry.

Last year the organization released three reports on the state of outdoor recreation in America. In addition to analyzing various user trends, the reports examined how lifestyle activities such as hiking, biking and rock climbing can control obesity and alleviate stress.

"We tend to talk about the obesity crisis mainly from a nutritional focus, but it's just as much a crisis of inactivity," Hugelmeyer said. "Knowing the results of inactivity is one thing. Knowing how kids become active and what keeps them active is another."

Overall, the 2004 outdoor recreation participation showed that:

  • America's outdoor recreation population over the last six years has grown larger, younger and become more dedicated. About 145.7 million people now participate in outdoor activities ranging from trail running to biking and bird-watching.
  • The bulk of the partici-pants and enthusiasts center on cornerstone - or "gateway" - activities such as bicycling, hiking and camping.
  • The most significant additions of new participants since 1998 came in trail running, kayaking, canoeing and snowshoeing.

Unlike most team sports, outdoor activities can pay dividends over an entire lifetime, yet these activities are rarely taught in school. In fact, fewer and fewer schools are even offering physical education anymore.

The OIA research shows that most Americans start their favorite outdoor activity at the age of 18, and that if people get involved in one activity, chances are they will cross over to other pursuits, thus raising their activity levels throughout their lives.

Forty-one percent of the young people surveyed in the active lifestyle study cited parents or other family members as their No. 1 influence for getting involved in outdoor recreation. The other 33 percent said they were introduced to the outdoors through friends, and the rest credited schools.

"Something all these sports have in common is that you compete with yourself, not someone else," Hugelmeyer said. "Yet most of these activities are incredibly social, and it's this social network, this mentor chain, that's the key to introducing new people to the outdoor active lifestyle.

"If you're a parent and you introduce your child to an active lifestyle knowing there's a strong likelihood they will remain healthy, that's an amazing gift," said Hugelmeyer. "What parent would not want to do that?"

Hugelmeyer cited indoor climbing as a sport whose rapid growth is based largely on the participation of young people.

He said the long-term forecast for outdoor recreation participation appears bright, and that the biggest challenge may be simply getting kids - and adults - to turn off the TV.

"Kids are distracted in ways that didn't exist 20 years ago," Hugelmeyer said. "We have to ask ourselves, are we going to be a generation that encourages our kids to be active or inactive? Which do we choose?"

Morgan Simmons may be reached at 865-342-6321.

Copyright 2005, Knoxville News Sentinel Co. Click for permission to reprint


  1. My kids love the trail races, even if they don't really race. But they enjoy seeing a new place, and get to make friends with other kids who like to be outside.

    Unfortunately we do go out for pancakes afterward. But hey, at least they exercised first!


  2. I think your iPod story could help here too - there are few sports that actually encourage the use of an iPod, but every kid on the block has one. (Evonne)

  3. Do you know that an estimated 10% of America's preschoolers are dangerously overweight? Obesity rates for elementary school students have tripled in the last three decades, and 31% of adults in the U.S. are now considered obese which means they are at least 30 pounds overweight.


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