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KY Counties Find New Ways to Help Kids Exercise, Reduce Chronic Disease

A new health park in Paducah includes a playground, community garden and walking track. (Mark Thompson)
A new health park in Paducah includes a playground, community garden and walking track. (Mark Thompson)
July 9, 2019

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Communities across the state are working to ensure children in Kentucky are exercising and eating healthy foods.

In McCracken County, local organizations teamed up with the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky to build a new health park - an outdoor fitness and recreation area that also includes a community garden and walking track. Mike Muscarella, executive director of ambulatory services at Baptist Health in Paducah, said the state's high school-age kids rank third in the nation for obesity.

He said all children need easy access to areas where they can stay fit, and it's up to local communities to make that happen.

"We want our kids to be healthy, we want their parents to be healthy and their grandparents, and we want people to be healthy in these neighborhoods,” Muscarella said. “The kids are using the playground, families are using the walking track and exercise equipment that is outside, and people are growing vegetables in the community garden. And it's really exciting to see."

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky's Children's Health Initiative, a six year, $2 million pilot program in seven counties across the state, aims to reduce the odds Kentucky children will develop chronic diseases later in life by improving physical activity and nutrition.

Paula Little, assistant superintendent of Clinton County Schools, said many rural communities lack options when it comes to non-competitive sports and other activities for children that involve physical movement. She said her community has formed a coalition dedicated to encouraging exercise and healthy eating among youths.

"We have been able to do quite a bit to fight childhood obesity,” Little said. “We have tried to make sure that children have more opportunities for physical activity by providing programming, youth sports initiatives, and changing the built environment in the county as much as possible."

As part of the initiative, Clinton County Healthy Hometown Coalition spearheaded an effort to build a community walking track, and also launched a "Fitness Buddies" program, where high school volunteers pair up with third- and fourth-graders to do 30 minutes of exercise during the school day.

Disclosure: Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Health Issues, Smoking Prevention, Youth Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY