Leadership Jackson County team encourages kids to get outside and play

Learning Indiana and Jackson County have high obesity rates weighed heavy on the minds of the Leadership Jackson County youth project team.

During a class meeting earlier this year, Regina Huey, Craige Reid, Kelley Rice, Crystal Stuckwisch and Kevin Ude heard the alarming numbers from Molly Marshall, health and human sciences extension educator with Purdue Extension Jackson County, and Warren Forgey, president and chief executive officer of Schneck Medical Center.

In 2017, the obesity rate for Indiana was 33.6%, which ranks 12th worst in the country, and the physical inactivity rate was 26% for Indiana and 31% for Jackson County.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports only 21.6% of 6- to 19-year-olds in the United States get 60 or more minutes of vigorous physical activity at least five days a week and only 27.1% of high school students participate in 60 minutes of physical activity per day in a week’s time.

“So 70 to 80% of children don’t get the 60 minutes per day of exercise that’s suggested by the CDC,” Stuckwisch said.

Plus, on average, children only spend 12.6 minutes outside playing.

“With the increasing popularity of video games, video streaming and other online activity overall, a huge decline is being seen in children being out and being active,” Stuckwisch said.

To help combat obesity, Marshall and Forgey talked about local initiatives that they hope will turn these statistics around.

As a way to contribute to the effort, the Leadership Jackson County team created a pamphlet for students in kindergarten through fifth grade at public schools in Jackson County to encourage them to get outside and play.

With donations from Premier Companies, Leadership Jackson County and Cummins Inc., they distributed 3,284 pamphlets before the end of the school year so students would have ideas for activities and places to get outside and play in the summer.

“Our hope with passing these out to younger children is to encourage them to develop enjoyment and they would rather be outside doing something than sitting inside on a device for hours on end,” Huey said.

The front of the pamphlet says, “Did you play today? Everything you need is outside your door.”

Inside, parks around the county are listed with the name, address and features. The project team chose to include Brownstown Park and Jackson County Park in Brownstown; Shields Park, Gaiser Park, Kessler Park and Kasting Park in Seymour; Bard Street Park in Crothersville; and Medora Park in Medora.

“We know that there are resources in Seymour specifically that kids can go to for summer programming and structured play and things like that, but we wanted to have a project or a pamphlet that we could reach every kid in the county,” Ude said.

“As you notice, there are several parks and trails in Seymour that we did not include, but we wanted to be able to get something for everybody if they can’t drive to Seymour or Brownstown,” he said. “We can distribute it universally to every elementary school, every kid got a copy and it gives a little bit of everything.”

The pamphlet also includes an exercise challenge where kids can test their progress with weekly challenges for eight weeks. There are boxes to write down how many pushups, situps or crunches, squats, lunges and mountain climbers they can do in a minute at a time and take a one-minute break in between.

“The goal is to get better each week with more reps in the same amount of time,” Huey said.

If a child doesn’t have equipment at home or can’t get to a park, the pamphlet lists directions for a scavenger hunt, a homemade obstacle course and an alphabet hike.

“Our goal for our project was to get kids as early as possible to get out and start those good habits, get that exercise going that hopefully will carry them on throughout their adult lives,” Rice said. “Whether it’s for someone that wants something structured and something that they could do every summer or ongoing, we have that for them.”

Being physically active not only helps combat obesity. There are other benefits, too, Stuckwisch said.

“Children who are physically active tend to have better grades, better school attendance and better classroom behavior. Improved cognitive performance, such as concentration and memory, can also be associated with being more physically active,” she said. “There are so many benefits to being outside and playing, running and jumping. Kids just need a reminder of how great it is.”