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December 26. 2012 10:33AM

Connect Kids and Families with Nature

CONCORD, N.H. – As the new year approaches, a statewide coalition hopes parents and child caregivers think about this as a resolution: Connect children with the great outdoors in 2013. They'll love it and it's great for them!

The NH Children in Nature Coalition has released a new report, Opening Doors to Happier, Healthier Lives, which outlines recommendations for connecting kids with nature in New Hampshire. The coalition's seven goals – starting with getting kids outside to enjoy the great outdoors – are endorsed and welcomed by Susan E. Lynch, MD, New Hampshire's First Lady.

“As a pediatric lipid specialist and as New Hampshire's First Lady, I am very interested in working to encourage children to lead a healthy, active lifestyle as a preventative measure against childhood obesity,” Lynch said. “This emphasis on the importance of the health and physical activity of our children is equally represented and championed by the great work of the NH Children in Nature Coalition. This coalition demonstrates the importance of outdoor activities and learning experiences while utilizing New Hampshire's rich and diverse natural resources.”

This is a great time to make a resolution for children, according to Marilyn Wyzga of the NH Children in Nature Coalition and the NH Fish and Game Department. “Looking ahead to all the possibilities of a new year, let's make a resolution for our children,” Wyzga said. “Whether you're a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher or any caregiver for kids: Encourage your children to play outside. Let them explore. Let them play in the snow, jump over a log, build a fort. It doesn't have to be a formal activity; just enjoy a little time out each day. Open the door and let them play.”

With today's children watching screens an average of 54 hours a week, the consequences are obesity and sedentary lifestyles, deepening misconceptions about the natural world, and less emphasis on unstructured time outdoors, according to the Coalition's report. “The price of continuing these trends is serious, not only for children and their families, but for our communities, our schools, our culture, our economy, and the identity of the Granite State.”

In New Hampshire, 71 percent of children ages 6 to 17 and 53 percent of high school students do not get enough physical activity, according to the NH Department of Health and Human Services. And it's no coincidence that 32 percent of children ages 6 to 12 are overweight or obese. Combined, excess weight and lack of physical activity are risk factors for asthma, diabetes, hypertension and other chronic illnesses that burden the state's health care system and lead to lost productivity.

Nationally, the amount of outside space where children are allowed to roam free around their homes is one-ninth what it was in 1970.

Yet, research shows that the benefits of embracing an active, outdoor lifestyle are many, and that children who spend time outdoors are healthier and more creative, have better concentration, and even get better grades.

The good news is that this can be done easily in New Hampshire, and at little cost. In fact, New Hampshire is well positioned to lead the nation in promoting a healthy, active lifestyle that takes advantage of all the natural beauty, outdoor opportunities, and facilities our state offers – attributes that already help make tourism one of the state's most important economic engines.

The coalition – representing agencies and organizations from diverse health, education and conservation disciplines – supports seven goals:

1. Increase participation in outdoor learning experiences for children and families.
2. Urge more children and families to get outside on a regular basis.
3. Ensure that every child has the opportunity to experience nature in his or her local community.
4. Provide children with more time for free play outdoors.
5. Increase appreciation and care of the outdoors through organized activities and groups.
6. Improve the health, fitness, and well-being of New Hampshire children.
7. Deepen the understanding of the natural world among children and youth.

For more information about the N.H. Children in Nature Coalition and how you can make a resolution to reconnect children, youth and families with nature, visit http://www.nhchildreninnature.org.


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