To Turn the Tide of Childhood Obesity, Put Play Back in Kids' Days

06/13/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Children throughout the nation face unprecedented health challenges as a result of inactivity and poor nutrition. Today, one in three is obese or overweight, leading to conditions, such as elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure and the early onset of type 2 diabetes -- conditions that children should never have to worry about.

Addressing the childhood obesity crisis has been deemed so important that First Lady Michelle Obama has taken it on as a signature initiative. Her campaign, "Let's Move," aims to end childhood obesity in a generation by focusing on four key pillars: informing parents about nutrition and exercise, improving the quality of food in schools, making healthy foods more affordable and accessible for families, and increasing physical education. For these efforts to be effective, they must become a major priority that involves action from all sectors of our society.

YMCAs are committed to building communities where all kids can learn, grow and thrive, and we join the White House and community leaders in the fight to end childhood obesity -- an epidemic that does so much harm to our children. We appreciate the leadership Mrs. Obama is bringing through the "Let's Move" campaign, and we call on local and state policy makers to do the same.

Each year, YMCAs impact the lives of nearly 10 million children. We believe our responsibility to support children in adopting and maintaining healthy lifestyles reaches beyond the walls of the YMCA and extends to the entire community. YMCAs -- working side-by-side with school systems, policy makers, community organizations, parents and children -- are creating innovative solutions that help all who are facing the health crisis. Through our Healthier Communities Initiatives, YMCAs across the country are working with community leaders to influence policy and systems changes to increase physical activity and improve access to healthy foods. Participating communities have been successful in increasing access to safe locations for children to play, developing environments to support individual and family efforts to make healthy decisions, and influencing school foods contracts to include more fruits and vegetables and whole grain foods -- policy and environmental changes that are making these communities healthier places to live and raise children.

Healthy active play and healthy eating are integral parts of combating childhood obesity. Experts recommend that kids receive at least 60 minutes of active play each day, and if we get our children to play more, we can make them healthier. Through active play, kids develop a love for physical activity that stays into adulthood -- and it's a small step that can turn the tide of childhood obesity.

On April 17, we will celebrate YMCA Healthy Kids Day, the largest health day for children and families in the nation. Throughout our country, YMCA Healthy Kids Day promotes fun, physical activity for the whole family and provides families with tools and resources to help them get back to the basics, and adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles year round. We invite families - and children of all ages -- to put some play in their day at this year's YMCA Healthy Kids Day.

It will take a collective effort to create sustainable changes in the places where we live, work, learn and play to make healthy living obtainable for all. The YMCA is committed to reversing the obesity epidemic and ensuring that every child has the opportunity to grow into a confident and healthy adult -- this is what the YMCA has done for nearly 165 years, and it is what we do best.