There has been a lot of talk over the last couple of months about the idea of “food deserts,” areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious foods, but only recently have the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) begun talking about the idea of “play deserts,” mapping areas where there is limited access to opportunities for physical activity.
If the HHS and the CDC are going to undertake an analysis of play deserts and their public health consequences, it is essential that they look not just at the built environment, but also at the full spectrum of opportunities for play and physical activity – both in-school and out — if they are to really understand and ultimately address the environmental conditions that have resulted in our physical inactivity crisis. For example, a chaotic and unsafe recess is a major contributor to this crisis. A 2007 report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that recess is the number one way to increase physical activity in children, so making recess a safe place to play should be a priority.
I get asked all the time, “What happened?” “How is it possible that kids don’t know the rules to games that were such a huge part of MY childhood?” There isn’t an easy answer. This isn’t an issue of simply not having access to parks and playgrounds. Doesn’t an unsafe and chaotic recess play a role in this and represent a play desert, too? This isn’t just about vilifying screen time. The world has changed.
What would you measure if you were trying to map out play deserts?