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Posted: February 21, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Let's play

Last week, first lady Michelle Obama kicked off an initiative. "Let's Move," addressing the problem of childhood obesity.

While our representatives in Washington are at a stalemate over health care "reform," the bigger problem over the long term is the state of our nation's health. No matter how we may change the health care system, we will have failed if we do not fix the underlying health crisis. Moving more unhealthy people into a better system of health care is not the answer.

The Letsmove.gov website states: "We spend $150 billion every year to treat obesity-related conditions, and that number is growing. ... Obesity rates tripled in the past 30 years, a trend that means, for the first time in our history, American children may face a shorter expected lifespan than their parents."

The answer is more healthy people who will be happier and more productive and will need less health care

How do we get there?

The answer, according to the current administration, is a new commission.

The objectives of the commission's task force include "ensuring access to healthy, affordable food; increasing physical activity in schools and communities; providing healthier food in schools; and empowering parents with information and tools to make good choices for themselves and their families."

Good objectives - but is a government commission the way to achieve them?

If only a new commission would lead to a solution to our country's problems. If only it were that easy.

People need to be inspired to take individual responsibility and action. (Might be a good time to remember that Social Security is going bankrupt and the government is running huge deficits. More government might not be the answer.)

Six years ago, as we were trying to decide where to send our oldest child, I called the neighborhood public school and asked if the students had recess every day. I knew that my daughter would not be able to sit and pay attention for seven-and-a-half hours without running and playing outside for part of that time. Thrilled to hear that the principal had retained recess while other schools had cut it to focus on academics, we enrolled her.

My hunch that recess would lead to a better classroom experience was proven later by research. A report titled "School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior" (Barros, Silver, Stein), published in the February 2009 Pediatrics (February, 2009), concluded "among 8- to 9-year-old children, having one daily recess period of greater than 15 minutes in length was associated with better teacher's rating of class behavior scores."

In addition, the report "Is There a Relationship Between Physical Fitness and Academic Achievement?" (Chomitz, Slining, McGowan, Mitchell, Dawson, Hacker), published in the Dec. 19, 2010, Journal of School Health, showed that that there are "significant relationships between fitness and academic achievement." Students who are more fit also perform better academically. With the average child spending seven-and-a-half hours per day in front of a screen, something has to change to inspire children to become more fit.

How about more play?

Providing access to green space for play has been key to my serving on the board of the Trust for Public Land's Georgia Advisory Council. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all children could walk to a park to play?

God made the world for us to enjoy. To live fully, we have to participate through outdoor activity and by being good stewards of the land.

Being outside in nature evokes a sense of humility, awe and inspiration. It reminds us of how small we are and how big God is in comparison.

This weekend, walking on the beach in South Georgia, I was reminded by the tides that there is ebb and flow in the world. The storms reminded me that there are times when all appears dark; the sunshine the next day provides me with renewed optimism.

Looking out on an ocean, with no end in sight, we realize how insignificant we are as individuals. It reminds us that we are not in charge of the world, but we are responsible for our actions. The riptides can carry us out to sea, but we get to decide whether to get in the ocean.

This understanding of responsibility for our actions leads to our gaining the ability to control our impulses. After all, if we are not responsible for our actions, then we will never learn to control ourselves.

This is what an overactive government implies to people: Don't worry - we'll take care of it, you don't have to take responsibility.

Inspiring individual responsibility is the solution.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman founded and is chairman of the board of the Learning Makes a Difference Foundation.


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