Wednesday, September 15, 2010

America’s Great Outdoors Initiative: the connection between health and the outdoors

Human health is unquestionably linked to nature and the outdoors. It is essential that we address the amount of time adolescents are spending inside consumed by technology and the reduction in time spent outdoors partaking in its beauty and restorative resources. In order to accomplish this, important issues of safety and accessibility of the outdoors need to be dealt with. With 80% of Americans living in cities today, it is more important than ever that we establish appropriate facilities so people can have access to outside space.

This past April, President Obama signed a memorandum establishing the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative with the hope to develop conservation agenda aimed to reconnect Americans with our great outdoors. He believes that protecting, restoring and reconnecting must happen at a local level. Leaders in the initiative are traveling across the country to listen and learn from people directly involved in finding grassroots solutions to reconnect Americans to the outdoors. The great ideas that emerge from the national dialogue will be brought back to the President on November 15th, where recommendations for a 21st century conservation agenda will be designed.

On August 31st, the Organic School Project participated in one of these listening and learning sessions focused on the connection between health and the great outdoors. Many representatives from local and national organizations aimed at conservation efforts and battling health related issues in America attended this session in Chicago, and brought with them their great ideas for the President. With the hopes of creating a cultural turn around, leaders and attendees talked about important issues that need to be addressed. Some topics discussed included ways of improving access to outdoor facilities, ensuring safety in the neighborhoods so kids can use the facilities without fear of danger, doctors incorporating the outdoors in their suggested remedial exercise, for example, walking in a park instead of on on a treadmill, spending some of the trillions of dollars spent on health care on preventative programs, and starting community gardens to foster exercise and eliminate food deserts.

At the "break out session" we were encouraged to contribute our thoughts for future needs and discuss what is currently being done to reconnect humans and the great outdoors. During this session, we shared our beliefs on how school and community gardens can serve as a great mechanism to draw people back outside and get them active. A garden provides a safe place for parents and kids to come and reconnect with the earth and be involved in regular exercise. Here kids learn about nutrition and the environment, and what is involved in keeping an organism healthy. Reconnection at a young age will ensure they become stewards of the earth, providing careful and responsible management of its resources. School and community gardens result in healthier lifestyles among the kids actively working the garden, and a more sustainable way of living among future generations.

One of the great outcomes of the session was being introduced to the many great initiatives taking place across the nation, and many right here in Chicago. Stay tuned as we update you on more topics discussed at the listening and learning session, and current endeavors going on locally and nationally to address these issues.

It is important that you take part in this national dialogue as well! Share your ideas for the conservation agenda, and let the President know what issues you find important for future action.

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