Statement Calls on Pediatricians to Advocate for Environments that Support Physical Activity

May 31, 2009

By Mark Bishop, Deputy Director

My son's three year checkup is coming up soon and when I see his
pediatrician, I'm interested in talking about the new policy statement
in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics about how the built environment can support healthy and active lifestyles.

It's all good information — nothing too new, but the audience is powerful. The quick summary (in my words) is this: Obesity
is going up. The environment affects child health. Walkable, safe
neighborhoods promote physical activity. Physical activity reduces
obesity.
All good stuff. But what's really interesting to me are
the recommendations, which fall into two categories : policy
recommendations and pediatrician recommendations.

On the
policy side, the authors suggest promoting laws and regulations to
support active living. This includes more parks, better school siting
and safer pedestrian routes to schools. It's exciting to see the health
community really getting on board with policy recommendations for a
built environment that supports children's health.

Equally as
exciting, the recommendations for pediatricians are specific to getting
pediatricians involved as advocates for child health. The authors
recommend that pediatricians:

Encourage
patients to advocate on behalf of their children and their schools for
relevant environmental improvements, such as Safe Routes to School
programs, or a walking school bus. When present in their communities,
encourage families to participate and use these programs…

And to get involved themselves:

Advocate
for environmental improvements that will promote physical activity in
children. Become involved in local community planning processes to
encourage cities and local governments to prioritize space for parks…
Advocate for safe routes for incidental activity opportunities,
including walking or biking to school.

As an advocate for
student health issues, it's great for me to see new advocates from a
variety of fields join the effort to promote healthy communities and
healthy schools.

In Illinois, we have a great chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
that has been very aware and supportive of school and community health
issues. (HSC serves on their Committee for School Health).

And this
formal policy statement in the Academy's national journal is an
opportunity to reach out to an even broader audience across the country.

Building
a new school? Pulling a green team together in your school? Starting a
walking program? Call your local pediatricians and get them involved.
They have a lot to offer as allies in creating environments that
support children's health.