How Neighborhood Watch Sparks Neighborhood Play



Chris Paul playing basketball with kids by Andy Hamilton

If you lived in a neighborhood where gunshots rang out every day and drug dealers loitered on your street every night, would you let your kids outside to play? Well, you’re not alone.

One of the reasons our children are not getting the minimum amount of physical activity they need is that physical education has been carved out of our schools, and many youth live in high-crime neighborhoods where their parents are afraid to let them go outside. So it’s no wonder that the national childhood obesity rate, especially in impoverished and underserved communities, has skyrocketed over the last 30 years and has now reached epidemic proportions.

A report conducted by the Trust for Public Land revealed that “crime drops when adequate parks and recreational activities are available in inner-city neighborhoods.”  Many examples can be found in cities and towns throughout America where policymakers, law enforcement officials, community leaders, and residents have joined together with the park service and recreation facility owner-operators to take back their neighborhoods and make them safe.

Every summer in Phoenix, basketball courts and rec centers are kept open until 2 a.m. to encourage residents to be active with their neighbors. The city of Phoenix found that during the summer months, calls to police reporting juvenile crime incidents drop by as much as 55 percent.

Researchers at Columbia University reported that Boys or Girls Clubs in public housing projects reduced crime rates by 13 percent and drug use by more than 20 percent. Juveniles between the ages of 10-16 year olds who have a mentor, which is an important component of a quality after-school program like those of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, are 46 percent less likely to use drugs and 27 percent less likely to start drinking alcohol.

So we cannot afford for our kids to sit home and play sedentary video games after school. We must give them opportunities to participate in physical activity and make better food choices throughout the day. It is proven that physical activity and good nutrition help children perform better academically by increasing concentration and energy levels and boosting self confidence. Physical activity also hones their socialization skills, which enable young people to identify with peers, succeed in college or a vocation, and live happier and healthier lives.

That is why the President’s Council works closely with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to connect the public and private sectors with non-profit organizations and encourage them to develop sustainable programs to fight childhood obesity. Through the “Million PALA Challenge”—a joint physical activity campaign to get one million Americans to earn their Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) by September 2011—and initiatives like Let’s Move! Cities and Towns and Let’s Move Outside, we will make great strides to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic one child, one family and one community at time. For more information, visit

Williamson, D.  (May 2000).  Study: Crime, lack of PE, recreation programs lead U.S. adolescents to couch-potato lifestyles.  UNC News Services.  Retrieved from

The Trust for Public Land. (n.d.) Why we must invest in urban parks.  Retrieved from

Riley, R., Peterson, T., Kanter, A., Moreno, G., & Goode, W. (2000). Afterschool programs: Keeping children safe and smart. Washington, DC: Child Trends.