architecture · children · community · design · environment · health · mental health · play · school

Changing Skyline: Redesigning playgrounds to promote ‘loose play’ – think pop-up play spaces

Great article about the evolution of the playground, as well as the next generation of playgrounds emerging in cities:

After World War II, European architects turned out custom playgrounds that challenged kids both physically and intellectually. Inspired by their work, a few American architects, including Philadelphia’s Louis Kahn, tried their hands at the form. But the movement didn’t get very far. Playgrounds were a casualty of the breakdown of American cities in the ’60s and ’70s. As maintenance was deferred, they fell into ruin. By the time cities began to recover in the ’90s, Solomon says, all that local officials wanted was equipment that was indestructible and vetted for safety.

Moore, a professor at North Carolina State University who has been studying children’s play for 50 years, sees a connection between those designs and the increase in such childhood ailments as obesity, anxiety, and attention-deficit disorder. In the simple act of scrambling up the branches of a tree, a kid learns to monitor risk and deal with fear. But on most playgrounds, the climbing frames are lower than ever.

The concern about such controlled environments has sparked any number of popular books advocating less programming: Free Range Kids, 50 Dangerous Things (you should let your children do), Last Child in the Woods. All see our culture’s fear of risk as worse than the occasional scraped knee or broken bone.

So what’s the alternative to standard-issue playgrounds? Solomon envisions multipurpose, multigenerational urban parks that incorporate spaces where kids can take charge of their own play. Instead of a fixed bridge in a plastic fort, they would have to use their imagination to decide which objects could be converted to play equipment. Such a challenging play space also would include nooks where kids could temporarily escape the nervous gaze of their caregivers. There would be no fences, plenty of trees and bushes, and good seating.

read more of their ideas for better playgrounds via Changing Skyline: Redesigning playgrounds to promote ‘loose play’ – think pop-up play spaces.

My favorite playground growing up was made of mostly huge sewer pipe pieces, a monkey cage, and random cement shapes. What was your favorite playground as a kid? Or now? Describe it in the comments below.

behavior · community · health

Obesity crisis: Does a lack of grocery stores make poor neighborhoods fatter? | OregonLive

Kaassouffle
Image via Wikipedia

Interesting follow-up article to a post I linked to earlier this week about people creating “food corridors” in Olympia, WA; according to this study, simply installing grocery stores “oases” doesn’t solve the problem:

There was never much hard science linking the obesity epidemic to so-called food deserts – inner city neighborhoods lacking stores selling fresh produce. One of the largest relevant studies, published July 11, found that having a nearby supermarket or grocery made no difference in the amount of fruits and vegetables people ate or the overall quality of their diets.

Being surrounded by fast food restaurants was linked to more frequent fast food dining – but only among low-income men. In that group, a 1 percent increase in the number of nearby fast food outlets appeared to increase the number of weekly fast food meals by 0.13 percent to 0.34 percent. That’s not a huge difference, but the researchers concluded that their findings “provide some evidence for zoning restrictions on fast food restaurants.”

Study author Penny Gordon-Larsen, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Reuters Health that researchers need to do more work to understand how people make decisions about what to eat, and that improving eating habits is likely to require broad efforts including community education.

“It’s not simply enough to introduce a grocery store,” she said…

In more bluntly stated commentary, the Economist asserts that the focus on food retailers may be misguided: “Open a full-service supermarket in a food desert and shoppers tend to buy the same artery-clogging junk food as before–they just pay less for it. The unpalatable truth seems to be that some Americans simply do not care to eat a balanced diet, while others, increasingly, cannot afford to.”

more via Obesity crisis: Does a lack of grocery stores make poor neighborhoods fatter? | OregonLive.com.

I think the Economist may have a point; if people are used to eating a certain way, and don’t understand the value of eating fresh fruits and veggies over cheaper-less-healthful foods, then they won’t stop buying soda and chips, mainly because they are usually cheaper and taste better stronger.

anthropology · behavior · culture · disease · health

Workplace Cited as a New Source of Rise in Obesity – NYTimes.com

Gli stand - FORUM PA 2011
The amount of physical activity in a typical work day has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. Image by Forum PA via Flickr

To be perfectly honest, I have gained a significant amount of weight since starting my new job in November. I avoid the free sodas but can’t resist the occasional free chocolate, and combined with being chained to my computer for typically 10 hours at a time (or more) BOY is it adding up. And apparently I am not alone:

A sweeping review of shifts in the labor force since 1960 suggests that a sizable portion of the national weight gain can be explained by declining physical activity during the workday. Jobs requiring moderate physical activity, which accounted for 50 percent of the labor market in 1960, have plummeted to just 20 percent.

The remaining 80 percent of jobs, the researchers report, are sedentary or require only light activity. The shift translates to an average decline of 120 to 140 calories a day in physical activity, closely matching the nation’s steady weight gain over the past five decades, according to the report, published Wednesday in the journal PLoS One.

Today, an estimated one in three Americans are obese. Researchers caution that workplace physical activity most likely accounts for only one piece of the obesity puzzle, and that diet, lifestyle and genetics all play important roles.

more via Workplace Cited as a New Source of Rise in Obesity – NYTimes.com.

Thankfully there are things I can do at work, like adjust my desk so that I can stand instead. I often take breaks to wiggle or stretch, and I get a discount at several local gyms. But this is not enough, and if we want to not have to pay for workers’ lifestyle-induced health problems, from obesity to carpal tunnel syndrome, we need to encourage businesses to improve health in the workplace!

For starters, no free candy and less hours expected of your workers! You’ll get more productive workers, really really!

architecture · behavior · brain · community · design · disease · environment · health

A Better Way to Fight Obesity: New, Smarter Supermarkets | The Atlantic

"The New Fred Meyer on Interstate on Lomb...
Image via Wikipedia

I heard an interview on the radio today with Rupal Sanghvi, the founder of HealthxDesign (“Healthy By Design”), an initiative she launched in 2010 after a decade of work with the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

During her years in the field, Sanghvi observed numerous instances in which people developing public health solutions overlooked contextual factors that were contributing to the problem. In clinics, for example, she saw how redesigning ventilation systems, retrofitting inefficient lighting, or choosing different building materials could improve
treatment conditions and accessibility, but these things were rarely addressed. Likewise, in supermarkets, features like store layout and air temperature can influence purchasing decisions, but food access initiatives often stop short of such nuances of structural design.

“Standard supermarkets are designed to promote consumption of foods that are high in sugar and preservatives,” explains Sanghvi, “because those are the high-margin items that maximize profit.” According to current guidelines, in an average 10,000-square-foot supermarket, only 500 square feet must be utilized for fresh produce. If the U.S. spends millions to build supermarkets according to the conventional mold, she argues, we may see some improvement in public health simply as a result of increased access to food, but we stand to achieve far better outcomes if we first reconsider supermarket design itself.

more via A Better Way to Fight Obesity: New, Smarter Supermarkets – Sarah Rich – Life – The Atlantic.

This is a great point being made about how our environment has a huge impact on our behavior, as well as corporate responsibility for health and wellness, and not just profits. This seems especially important for food stores, and I’m glad to see somebody taking up the cause.

Related:

Supermarket “Video Game” Designed to Help Shoppers Buy Healthier Food

behavior · children · design · learning · play · Social · technology

Download an Exercise Apps for Healthy Kids

The winners are in, and now you can reap the benefits!

The Apps for Healthy Kids competition is a part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation. Apps for Healthy Kids challenges software developers, game designers, students, and other innovators to develop fun and engaging software tools and games that drive children, especially “tweens” (ages 9-12) – directly or through their parents – to eat better and be more physically active.

via Apps for Healthy Kids.