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Study: Alexandria's Children Need Better Play Areas

Partnership for a Healthier Alexandria finds that many of the city's youngest residents need improved play areas to help reduce an alarmingly high obesity rate. The charter meeting of a related public task force will be held Thursday.

Alexandria’s children need better designed and more access to play spaces to encourage healthy lifestyles, which could help reduce the city’s alarming obesity rate among 2 to 5 year olds, finds a new report.

The Partnership for a Healthier Alexandria recently finished its survey of play spaces in the community with the ultimate goal of improving the availability and quality of beneficial play for the city’s children.

The group focuses largely on improving playtime for children ages 2 to 5 after a 2007 study by Inova Health System found that 43.5 percent of these Alexandrians are considered obese.

Additionally, according to the same Inova study, 23.5 percent of Alexandrians ages 6 to 10 are obese, 13.1 percent of those 11 to 14 years old and about 14 percent of children ages 15 to 18. In Arlington County, by comparison, 28.6 percent of children ages 2 to 5 are obese.

Among the group’s top recommendations are improving play spaces in northeast Alexandria, or Arlandria, which it says “has both a deficit of places to play and a high concentration of children.”

It also recommends better play areas and access to northwest Alexandria, where there are some play areas but most are privately owned and so have limited access.

The study, which was funded by a Kaiser Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) grant and conducted by Design Concepts, also recommends that Alexandria’s and the adopt a policy to make all of their sites appropriate for ages 2 to 5 “as soon as possible.”

The study found that many parks do not serve that key age group, such as Buchanan Park, William Ramsay Elementary, Charles Barrett Park, Holmes Run Park and ARHA Royal, ARHA Oronoco and ARHA Braddock. It also recommends that the city should “enhance the appeal” of Simpson Stadium Park for ages 2 to 5.

The study reviews Alexandria parks for elements such as natural domain, free play domain, accessibility and other factors enhancing a child’s play and learning experience. It includes a four-minute PhotoVoice project, which is attached to this article, compiling the views of about 30 parents and caregivers on play areas around the community.

And it notes that while public school yards in Alexandria tend to be well designed and maintained, they are not available during the school day for use by the general public. One possibility would be to open up the playgrounds to playgroups through a permit system, allowing 2 to 5 year olds on the sites under controlled conditions, it suggests.

The group is forming the Project Play Task Force, which will begin developing recommendations based on the report’s findings. The first meeting is open to interested members and will be on March 22 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the , next to .

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