D.C. has the 9th highest childhood obesity rate in the United States. Currently, 35% of the District’s youth are overweight or obese, and these numbers look even worse in some neighborhoods in the city. Childhood obesity can have serious consequences for health, learning and behavior, leading to diabetes, heart disease, poor cognitive development, and more.
Attaining equity to safe and clean places to be physically active is key to improving health and decreasing rates of obesity and chronic disease. This equity should include all D.C. Public School recreational facilities – especially in Wards 4, 5, 7, and 8 – being open to community groups and residents through shared use agreements. Right now, only 35% of schools in these priority needs wards are opening their recreational facilities to community groups. READ MORE about the inequity across D.C. wards for shared use.
Access to Safe, Clean Active Places
Schools are often centrally located within a community and have gymnasiums, sports fields, courts, tracks, or other facilities that could provide opportunities for community groups to utilize and kids to be active. Physical activity has been shown to help academic performance and enhance attention and memory, along with preventing obesity.
D.C. community groups say the major benefits of using the D.C. public schools for their recreational activities are:
convenience, quality, and familiarity of the location
safety of keeping kids off the street
This “shared use” of public property and facilities has support from the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of the Surgeon General, Institute of Medicine, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Barriers to Use of Recreation Facilities
In a survey of D.C. community groups, the biggest obstacle for them to use the public schools is difficulty navigating the administrative system – figuring out where to start, who to talk to, how to fill out the paperwork, and the wait time for approval. When the community groups were asked, “How would you rate your experience in the process of applying to reserve space and communicating with the school?,” survey respondents gave the process a “GPA” of 2.59, or a C+.