According to a study released by The Outdoor Foundation, more than 137 million Americans participated in outdoor recreational activities last year. That figure represents nearly 50 percent of all Americans, age six and older.
However, the study failed to illustrate the growing inactivity crisis among our youth and the alarming disconnect that has been occurring nationwide between children and the outdoors.
In less than a generation, the United States has become a very mobile and consumptive nation. The average American household now has at least two cars in the garage, and often three. There are also about 2.7 cell phones per household and we use them more often than our landlines.
Over the same timeframe, the average number of bicycles owned has shrunk dramatically, nationwide. In the 1960s, 60 to 70 percent of students who lived within two miles walked or took a bike to school. Now, it's down to less than 9 percent and bike racks have been replaced by student parking lots.
As one student recently explained, "Bikes are fun, but not for school. If you're 16 and still riding a bike to school ... well, it's just not too cool."
Today's young men and women are aptly described as the "Digital Generation." They came of age at a time when the world was connected as never before.
With the advent of computers, the Internet and cellular phones, today's youth are encapsulated and ensnared by a technological bubble. Childhood has changed dramatically.
Today's kids consider radio an ancient technology. As explained to me by an earphone-wagging fan, "Why wait for a DJ to play a song I like, when my iPod is already full of them?"
Modern day children are extremely well-connected. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation study reveals the average kid consumes 2.5 hours of music each day, as well as nearly five hours of TV and DVD movies, three hours of Internet and video games, and just 38 minutes of old-fashioned reading. The report did not even consider the time kids spent on the phone or texting and yet the average kid is currently connected for a combined 11.5 hours per day.
The burgeoning demands of "wired play," which are often accomplished alone or with just one other kid, leave little time for Junior to ride a bike, take a hike or go skiing or sledding. Is it any wonder we are becoming an obese nation? You can't throw a snowball or ride a sled on a Wii.
This growing inactivity crisis among America's youth and the quiet disconnect between youth and the outdoors may have serious consequences unless it is addressed in the near future.
What are we doing?
Although The Outdoor Foundation's 2010 report revealed increases in a number of recreational pursuits last year, there were also significant decreases, especially in activities they have been tracked for more than a decade.
The Outdoor Foundation worked with its partners in the Physical Activity Council to measure participation in 117 diverse sports, fitness and recreational activities. In total, 77 percent of Americans age 6 and older, or about 217 million people, participated in at least one activity.
However, this still leaves 33 percent or 64.6 million people who are inactive, even in the broadest definition of activity.
The report revealed the major activity increase has been in running/jogging, which is up 39.8 percent over the past decade. Activities including day hiking/8.4 percent, trail running/16.0 percent percent and snowshoeing/17.4 percent experienced similar increases.
On the flip side, activities reporting a decade long decrease include BMX bicycling/-43.6 percent, canoeing/-7.6 percent, freshwater fishing/-6.3 percent, flyfishing/-17.1 percent and scuba diving/-36.7 percent
It is estimated nearly 151 million Americans took part in at least one high calorie activity. This number drops to 78 million people who claim to be frequent participants in high calorie activities, less than one-third of the nation's population above the age of six.
More than half of the adult population is sedentary; they do not participate in any physical activities. Although three-quarters of all student age respondents reported they took part in PE at school regularly, only about one-third participated in outdoor activities, team sports or cycling. Better than half (55.6 percent) of all school-age children reported being non-active outside of PE class.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.