No child left inside

Amit Rana is the Sierra Club’s California youth education representative and coordinator of the Building Bridges to the Outdoors project

Most of us can recall fond memories of growing up in the great outdoors. California offers unique opportunities to experience the wonders of nature firsthand: at the beach, in the forest, atop a mountain or along the river. Regrettably, though, children today are staying inside, watching more television and playing more video games than ever before.

This sedentary lifestyle has dramatic consequences: More than 50 percent of Californians are now obese or overweight, and between one-third and one-half of kids born after 2000 will develop diabetes. The Department of Health Services estimates physical inactivity costs the state more than $13 billion annually. By contrast, we could save more than $1 billion every year by increasing the number of physically fit Californians by just 5 percent.

We know that just getting kids out in nature increases their physical activity level. But a 2005 study by the California Department of Education showed that spending a few days in an outdoor-education program also raised students’ science test scores by 27 percent, improved conflict-resolution and problem-solving skills, and engendered better self-esteem and motivation to learn.

If that were not enough, our state and nation now are facing unprecedented challenges from global warming. How can we expect future generations to appreciate and protect our state and world if they grow up with “Nature Deficit Disorder”—never having experienced the wonders of nature firsthand?

With leadership from state Senator Alex Padilla, California now has an opportunity to reverse these negative trends. Padilla’s SB 207 would create a systematic approach to provide more outdoor education opportunities to California’s youth—focusing especially on at-risk kids. It’s a chance to give our youth the wonderful experiences in nature many of us had in our own childhoods, and in turn create safer, healthier and stronger communities.

Californians pride themselves on being national and global leaders. SB 207 gives us an opportunity to lead where it matters most: with our kids. Funding SB 207 is a community investment that will benefit all Californians and pay for itself over the long term. Contact your state legislators and the governor’s office; tell them that you support SB 207 and want to see it funded.