I read Craig Medred's recent article "Can American children claim the label of 'The Slowest Generation?'" with much interest. Not only am I working on trying to get more kids on trails through my job at Alaska Trails, I am also the father of a 5-year-old. He's at the age where he wants to run everywhere, at everything, all the time. It's hard to imagine him not going full tilt. But one can't argue with the facts that Medred presents. Obesity is on the rise.
According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Alaskans spend $459 million a year treating the effects of obesity. Almost 40 percent of adults and 30 percent of kids in Alaska are obese. Taken together, Alaskans who are overweight and obese account for 65 percent of the population. For children, it's not only bad for their health, it also negatively affects their academic performance.
There is no single solution to something as pervasive as obesity. Factors contributing to a more sedentary, less healthy lifestyle are many. Solutions have to come in many forms as well, so that the different needs and different interests of Alaskans can be met and addressed.
Trails are part of the solution, as they offer a year-round source of activity, often near your home, school or workplace. Whether on feet, bikes, scooters, skis, snowshoes or rollerblades -- trails give kids and families a place to exercise and enjoy the outdoors. Many programs -- including the Anchorage School District running program -- introduce kids and their families to trails through things like running jamborees. The fall jamboree my son participated in was part of a series that put nearly 10,000 people on local trails for a series of fun activities. Putting kids and parents on trails they don't know is a great way to get them active and to raise awareness of the great trails Anchorage has to offer.
There are lots of programs to check out here in Anchorage and around the state.
• Healthy Futures: Schools from Kaktovik to Ketchikan are participating in this healthy challenge to get students active for 30 minutes three days a week -- on trails or wherever your child likes to be active.
• It's cold out there now and you need to keep moving, and that's just what the Junior Nordic program that Medred mentioned does for kids.
• Get Outdoors Alaska: Great ideas for year-round outdoor activities and a long list of groups around that want to help you get outside.
• Play Every Day: With Alaska athletic stars like Kikkan Randall, Scotty Gomez and Holly Brooks, this website has a host of fun ideas for kids and adults to enjoy every day.
And it's not just play. Youth can get involved building and maintaining trails. The Youth Employment in Parks (YEP) program in Anchorage has become a very popular first job for Anchorage teens who want to work on trails. The skills they gain may lead to further trail building opportunities with the Student Conservation Association or directly with state and federal agencies.
Alaska Trails' 2014 Statewide Trails Conference in April will address the health benefits of trails and will have sessions on how we can get Alaska youth to use and love Alaska's trails. Come share your ideas and be part of an active solution to what is quickly becoming the preeminent health problem of our time.
Steve Cleary is executive director of Alaska Trails.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.