By Tom Farrey
Tom Farrey, the director of the Sports and Society program at the Aspen Institute, is an Emmy Award-winning journalist for ESPN and author of the book, Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of our Children.
This year, the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine released the first-ever study that systematically compared the health of young Americans to their peers in other developed nations. The US placed 17th out of 17 countries, with the highest rate of childhood obesity. More than 35 percent of American children ages 5-17 are overweight, which is two to three times the rate of some European and Asian countries. The disparity surprised even researchers, and led to calls for immediate action.
What role can sports play in addressing this crisis? How can the nation build a youth sports system that more effectively gets and keeps children engaged in healthy sports activity? After all, research shows adolescents who play sports are eight times more likely to be active at age 24 as adolescents who do not play sports. And, how do we lower the financial and other barriers to a quality experience, while emphasizing fun and safety?
From April 9 through 11, the Sports & Society Program introduces the Institute’s Project Play, a two-year initiative that will convene sport, health, business and other leaders in a series of events designed to seek and share ideas. The sessions will ultimately offer a game plan to help stakeholders—from policy chiefs to parents—create “Sport for All, Play for Life” communities. The April convening, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, includes 70 organizational and thought leaders, such as US Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun; Olympians Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Gary Hall Jr., and Michelle Kwan; Oregon State Men’s Basketball Coach Craig Robinson, and officials from sport governing bodies and education-based groups.
Project Play represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine youth sports in America, with a special focus on underserved communities and the country's public health. The perspectives, ideas and research shared at the roundtables and other events will lead to the publication of a final report, also underwritten by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in late 2014.
To attend Project Play's public program on the evening of April 11, "A Conversation with Olympic and Paralympic Athletes," click here for ticket information.