While more adults are going outdoors, they may be leaving the kids at home. At least that's one conclusion you could draw after reading The Outdoor Foundation's 2008 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report released this week.
The survey of 60,000 Americans ages 6 and older showed that overall participation in outdoor recreation increased from 134.4 million people to 138.4 million in 2007, though there was an 11 percent decline in participation among youth ages 6 to 17.
The sharpest drop was with boys and girls ages 6-12 -- girls' participation dropped from 77 percent to 61 percent, while boys' participation fell from 79 percent to 72 percent.
"One of the concerns that we know of anecdotally is that parents, and moms in particular, are seeing the outdoors as not a safe place to be. 'Stranger danger' has increased as it's portrayed in the media, while not increasing at all in reality," said Chris Fanning, executive director of The Outdoor Foundation (OF). "We need to make moms and dads understand that their children are no more likely to be harmed in a local park than they were 50 years ago."
Fanning said children are also being introduced to computers at a younger age, and they may be spending their time with Webkinz rather than playing outdoors.
Fanning told SNEWS® that OF would send the Participation Report to leaders of outdoor companies, members of Congress, executives at the U.S. Department of the Interior, health officials, media and members of other foundations to elevate issues surrounding outdoor recreation, and especially youth participation. For example, OF is sending the findings to The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is funding $500 million to combat childhood obesity. "We hope this report will encourage them to increase their funding for outdoor recreation programs as they shape their portfolio of ways to battle obesity," said Fanning.
She said that the research "helps to influence important stakeholders," and OF needs solid data when "competing for scarce resources on Capitol Hill or state legislatures, or with other foundations. It's critical to produce this kind of information; it gives us credibility as an ambassador for the outdoors."
To conduct the survey and develop the 42-page report, OF invested $25,000, which was "a good chunk of the OF budget," said Fanning. OF did save some money by collaborating with Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, National Golf Foundation, and SnowSports Industries America to conduct the survey. The cost to do the survey and produce the report is scaled for each organization, depending on how many activities are covered, and OF addressed more than 40 activities, from ice climbing to hiking to hunting, skateboarding and downhill skiing.
You can download a full copy of the "2008 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report" from The Outdoor Foundation website at http://www.outdoorfoundation.org/research.
SNEWS View: Before our industry can do anything to affect recreation habits, we must first have a concrete idea of where we stand, so we applaud OF for its effort to produce solid data concerning participation. The report not only provides a starting point, but also gives us something solid that we can put into the hands of health and policymakers who are examining the best places to invest money to battle obesity. Also, the report gives us certain insights that can open eyes to things we might not have recognized, and also challenge conventional wisdom. For example, the steep drop in kids' participation is surprising and alarming. As Fanning told us, it should give pause to those who are designing outdoor programs for children, and they should think carefully about whether they are meeting the needs of girls. Also, the survey revealed that once members of some minority populations were introduced to the outdoors, they actually participated more frequently than people in other populations. This certainly runs counter to the idea that people in certain cultures just don't like the outdoors. Finally, the report serves to challenge all of us adults in the outdoor industry. This year's data shows that family and friends played a critical role in determining whether or not a child played outdoors. As Fanning said, "Those of us who share a passion for the outdoors also share a responsibility to get kids outdoors and active."