by Suparna Dutta, Sierra Club Outdoors intern
New York joins the growing roster of states advancing strategies to connect children and youth with the outdoors. With a unanimous vote (63-0) lawmakers from both sides of the aisle just passed legislation to address the growing divide between children and the outdoors.
State Assembly Bill A735 was just signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and directs the state commissioners of health and environmental conservation to study and develop a long term strategy to promote outdoor environmental education and recreation with a focus on outdoor play and learning opportunities, for kids in New York.
The bill was introduced in response to a growing body of research revealing that children and youth are increasingly spending time indoors. On average, the American child spends between four to seven minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play and recreation, while exposure to daily screen-time exceeds seven hours for adolescents. Bill authors point to a correlation between increasing childhood obesity rates and the decline in outdoor recreation, and acknowledge access to open space as vital for everyone, and “particularly valuable to children growing up in “urban hardscapes,” or areas where access to nature is limited.” The strategy is to be based on an analysis of the health of New York’s youth, including childhood obesity rates and economic trends related to outdoor access. It will also be developed in consultation with state health and advisory bodies. The strategy will help New York develop long-term policies that support environmental stewardship and embrace the health benefits of time in nature to improve the well-being of New York state residents.
Founding member of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, the Y played a pivotal role in advancing this important policy measure. “The YMCA’s mission stands for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. We supported this bill from its very inception since it is congruous to the mission of the Alliance,” said Kyle Stewart, Executive Director of the Alliance of New York State YMCAs. “The development of policies that foster stewardship of the environment, an appreciation of the importance of the wise use of natural resources, and recognition of the health benefits of time spent in nature are essential to the residents of New York state.”
The Alliance of New York State YMCAs and New York’s state legislature and found inspiration for this statewide effort in the federal Healthy Kids Outdoors Act, supported by the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. If passed, the legislation would encourage states to develop multi-year multi-sector strategies to connect children and youth to the outdoors.
The Alliance of New York State YMCAs received the 2017 OAK Leaf Award for raising awareness about the importance of open spaces for children’s health and playing a critical role in the passage of Assembly Bill 735.