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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. President, today I speak in support of a bill I am introducing called the Healthy Kids Outdoor Act of 2011. This bill will help the development of locally-based plans that will encourage kids to enjoy one of our nation's most cherished past-times: recreating outdoors.

I am introducing the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act of 2011 with the support of Senators GILLIBRAND, MERKLEY and BENNET. My friend and colleague Representative KIND of Wisconsin is introducing companion legislation today in the U.S. House of Representatives. I want to thank Rep. KIND for his leadership on these issues over the years. I especially want to thank him for the opportunity to steal his good idea and appropriate it for myself in the Senate.

Specifically, the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act authorizes the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to provide grants, one per State, to eligible organizations for the development of State-level outdoor recreation plans. Working in cooperation with local partners, the eligible entities will develop plans designed to ensure that States have appropriate programs and infrastructure in place to help Americans effectively connect with the outdoors. These plans supplement current outdoor recreation planning by emphasizing how to use outdoor recreation resources and infrastructure, such as public parks, transportation and health systems, to facilitate outdoor activities. The plans supported by Federal funding under this act must be updated every five years based on evaluations of each state strategy and lessons learned from their implementation. Additionally, in order to ensure that state and local partners are contributing to this effort, funding recipients must provide a 25-percent non-federal cost share.

Finally, this bill requires the administration to develop a national strategy to get Americans active outdoors and evaluate the health impacts of the State strategies authorized under the legislation. The national strategy, to be developed with significant public participation, should align with the State strategies and identify barriers to and opportunities for outdoor activities.

Why is this important you might ask, especially at a time when we are looking at ways to cut spending and other programs?

We live in an increasingly sedentary world that makes it more difficult for our Nation to reach the heights that it can achieve. Today's society provides more distractions from active lifestyles and the natural world around us than ever before. This is particularly true among children, who spend on average just 4-7 minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play while spending an average of 7.5 hours a day in front of electronic media. Partially as a result of this, obesity has become a major public health problem. Today, one in three children is either overweight or obese, whereas only about 4 percent of children in 1960 were. Working together, we must find proactive ways to reverse this harmful trend.

Being overweight or obese can lead to many chronic health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. All of these conditions are costly for health care purchasers and patients, reduce quality of life, and are among the top 6 leading causes of death each year. The good news is that, in the vast majority of cases, obesity is completely preventable. Particularly for children, if we teach them good eating and fitness habits early in life, they will have a much better shot at maintaining a healthy weight later in life. In addition, research demonstrates the myriad mental health benefits of active lifestyles that make use of green spaces outside the home.

Furthermore, spending time in the outdoors, connecting with our public lands and waters and green spaces, furthers America's conservation legacy. For example, research demonstrates that hunters who become engaged in the sport as children are among the most active and interested sportsmen as adults.

Spending time in the outdoors also supports the outdoor recreation industry. We have a large and growing industry in this country of supply stores, manufacturers, guides, hotels, and other important businesses that are the backbone of many rural communities. In fact, outdoor recreation activities add over $730 billion to the national economy every year. In this time of economic uncertainty, outdoor recreation is one of the bright spots in our economy.

Additionally, at a time when disparities in health status and health insurance rates for minority populations are at an all-time high, particularly in my State of Colorado, the common sense goals of the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act can help level the playing field for good health across America. This legislation will make it easier for all Americans, regardless of cultural differences, geography or socio-economic status, especially children and families, to connect with healthy, active, outdoor lifestyles and the natural world. By doing so, we can combat the obesity epidemic, improve public health overall and bolster America's proud legacy of conservation and outdoor recreation economy.

Finally, I want to note that this bill could play a small role in making sure our children, as they reach adulthood, are qualified to serve in our U.S. military, if they so choose. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I have seen firsthand the studies that have shown that greater and greater numbers of young adults are ineligible to serve in the Armed Forces due to disqualifying health factors such as being overweight. Nearly one in four applicants is rejected for being overweight, which is the most common reason for medical disqualification. It's not a stretch to say that a more fit population can result in a more secure nation.

This legislation is a small but important step we can take to promote healthy, active lifestyles supporting the use and enjoyment of our natural world. I want to thank the Outdoor Alliance for Kids, whose members include many of the country's leading conservation groups and outdoor recreation companies, for its support and help developing this bill. I also want to thank the Campaign to End Obesity for their endorsement of it. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance this legislation.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.


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