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Great Outdoors Week Plea to First Lady: Fund Parks to Fight Obesity

PHOTO: Soccer for Success participant. Photo credit: Jeff Saunders
PHOTO: Soccer for Success participant. Photo credit: Jeff Saunders
June 24, 2013

AUGUSTA, Maine - Today marks the start of Great America Outdoors week, and as part of an effort to get kids moving in Maine and elsewhere, First Lady Michelle Obama is being asked to support funding for more bike paths, soccer fields, and places for recreation.

According to Rich Hamburg, deputy director of the Trust for America's Health, his group is one of 17 national organizations to sign onto the letter asking for the the First Lady's support.

"As we see increasing obesity rates over the last 20, 30 years in adults and children, we need to think out of the box, and invest dollars to promote physical education, physical activities," he declared.

Hamburg said many Americans may be surprised to learn that the national Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is a major source of funding for parks and outdoor recreation spaces. The letter asks the First Lady to make this spending a priority as part of her "Let's Move" campaign that's focused on ending childhood obesity.

Krista Washington, communications director for the U.S. Soccer Foundation, said her group partners with Beyond Soccer in Lowell to reach out to under-served kids, and to help provide new soccer fields in urban areas.

"Recently, Beyond Soccer took part in a 'Field of Dreams' contest that we had, and they were selected as the winner to receive grant funding to help start to build a field, in an area that didn't have one," she said.

Rich Hamburg said these funds do more than just build soccer fields, helping both adults and children live healthy lifestyles by increasing their physical activities.

"We're asking for a greater investment in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is used to provide grants for bike paths, soccer fields, baseball fields and activities meant to spur active living."

That fund uses oil royalty fees rather than taxpayer money to fund parks. Michelle Obama has previously expressed support for the Interior Department's work as critical to children's health and well-being. The letter is also addressed to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

A link to the letter is at bit.ly/1bZC2bt.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - ME