Everyone should have access to safe places to play and be physically active. The evidence is clear: regular physical activity is critical for healthy mental and physical development, chronic disease prevention, and reducing healthcare costs. Our ability to be active is determined, in large part, by the places in which we live, learn, work, and play. In both rural and urban areas, essential ingredients for physical activity include: safe, well-maintained paths and sidewalks; clean, well-lit parks; accessible school playgrounds; affordable public transit; quality physical education and places to which people can safely walk and bike.
The state of California is facing tough budgetary decisions, but cutting resources for parks, playgrounds and open spaces is a short-sighted approach. Infrastructure for physical activity is the backbone of a prosperous, equitable, safe and healthy state. Parks, open space and activity-promoting infrastructure are core to our economic development, the environment, health, equity, and community safety. A 2006 study found that California spent $20.2 billion on costs attributable to lost productivity and healthcare due to physical inactivity. That same study estimated conservatively that costs associated with unhealthy eating and inactivity would rise to $52.7 billion in 2011. Investments in physical activity infrastructure should distribute resources more equitably, reduce traffic congestion, increase community livability, use land more efficiently-and they can benefit local economic development by increasing residential and commercial property values.
Elected representatives, regional decision makers, and community leaders should collaborate with education, parks and recreation, business, transportation, health and public safety organizations to maintain and improve existing resources and create new opportunities for safe and accessible play and recreation. By working together, we can forge joint solutions to transform California neighborhoods into safe and healthy communities in which all children and adults have access to safe places to play and be active.