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For Immediate Release:
November 26, 2012

Media Contact:
Doris Howe

Laura Phillips

As Holiday Over-Eating Begins, University of Miami Study Shows Miami-Dade County Parks Fit-2-play Community Based Intervention Program is Making Kids Healthier

  • Yearlong Study Finds Program Prevents Obesity And Decreases Hypertension In Children And Adolescents
  • Researcher Declares Program A National Model

(Miami-Dade County, FL) -- 
The Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation & Open Spaces Department is proud to announce the results of a yearlong study conducted by the University of Miami UHealth System that shows its evidence-based "Fit2Play: Health, Wellness and Obesity Prevention" After-School Program is improving the health of Miami-Dade County children, reducing and preventing childhood obesity, amongst other health risk factors threatening today's youth.  The University of Miami's newly completed comprehensive study (Year 1 of 3) involved the analysis of children ages 6-to-14 who were enrolled in the Miami-Dade County Parks Fit2Play Program during the 2010-2011 school year.  The study concludes the community-based intervention program is having a positive impact on the health of its participants and actually making them healthier.   

"The data, especially concerning body mass index, confirms the Miami-Dade Parks Fit2Play Program is a significantly unique and effective prevention strategy, in that it is not a weight loss program, but rather a healthy weight-maintenance program that also instills positive attitudes and behaviors in children about physical fitness and health," said Dr. Sarah Messiah, research associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Clinical Research, at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine, who oversaw the data analysis process. 

"Miami-Dade Parks' Fit2Play program is highly effective and should serve as a national model in the fight against childhood obesity and other cardiovascular related diseases that children and adolescents are facing today, because the data shows it produces healthy growth patterns," added Messiah.  "Miami-Dade County Parks is offering an effective public health program that fills a void for families and health professionals looking for a sustainable solution to the problem of childhood obesity and excessive weight gain."

UM Study Shows Miami-Dade Parks Fit2Play Program Is Making Kids Healthier
The University of Miami's conclusive analysis of the measurement-impact data revealed that participants collectively maintained healthy weight and body mass index (BMI) throughout the school year; lowered their blood pressure; and improved their physical health, fitness levels and knowledge about nutrition and healthy lifestyle behavior.

"With one in four Floridians classified as obese and at risk for heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and depression, the time is now to take action for prevention," said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez.  "The Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department is consistently creating opportunities for physical activity, improved health and wellness that help residents throughout Miami-Dade County realize that fitness isn't a chore, but that it can actually be fun, affordable and convenient.  Fit2Play is another great example of that.  The department's passion for the health and well-being of park users and residents is inspirational, and it's having a positive impact."

"We now have proof that our seven-year-old Fit2Play initiative is truly making a difference in the lives of the children we are serving," said Miami-Dade County Parks Director Jack Kardys.  "It is inspiring to receive this confirmation from the University of Miami that we are on the right track, teaching children how to develop healthy nutrition and fitness habits that will help them grow into healthy adults able to reach their full potential."

According to the American Heart Association, one of every three school-aged children in the United States is either overweight or obese due to unhealthy eating, sedentary lifestyles and inactivity1.  As a result, many children today are experiencing chronic health problems that previously were not seen until adulthood, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type-2 diabetes.

Miami-Dade County, Florida, is home to nearly 2.5 million residents.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports2 the rate of obesity and overweight adults in Miami-Dade County is 67.4%.  It sites poor diet and physical inactivity as contributing to the obesity problem, as only 22.1% of adults in the County meet the federal government's guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption2.  Due to startling statistics like these, the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation & Open Spaces Department believes strongly that educating its Fit2Play youth program participants about health and proper nutrition is critical to empowering them to grow into healthy adults with healthy habits and lifestyles. 

"An active lifestyle that combines outdoor recreation and healthy eating is the key to winning the battle against childhood obesity," said University of Miami UHealth Pediatrician Tracie L. Miller, M.D.  "We found this concept to be most effective and sustainable in the Miami-Dade County Parks Fit2Play Program, because it encourages children to practice their newfound healthy lifestyle knowledge at home by electing to eat nutritious food, engaging in more physical activity, and reducing their time in front of the computer and television."   

The Miami-Dade County Parks Fit2Play Program is designed to make fitness, health and nutrition fun for kids, incorporating exercise, and health and nutritional education into fun and engaging group activities, such as obstacle courses and nutrition relay challenges.  During the program, each day's session begins with homework help, followed by Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids (SPARK) activities. SPARK is an evidence-based, outcome-oriented active recreation component of the program, dedicated to improving the quantity and quality of physical activity that children engage in.  It is designed to develop and improve motor skills, movement knowledge, and social and personal skills.  In addition, nutrition knowledge is delivered through the American Heart Association and Alliance for A Healthier Generation's EmpowerMe 4Life Nutrition curriculum, which was assessed using a nine-item scale.  The University of Miami's full study extends into both the 2011-2012 (Year 2) and 2012-2013 (Year 3) school years.  Results for Year 2 are currently being prepared for scientific publication, expected in early 2013.  Year 3 has just begun and will conclude in spring 2013. 

With parental permission, the children enrolled in the Miami-Dade County Parks Fit2Play Program participated in pre- and post-measurement tests that provided a baseline for determining their fitness levels and nutritional needs, and were also used for tracking their progress.  Each child's height and weight measurements were then converted to a BMI age- and sex-adjusted percentile.  Waist and hip circumference, along with bicep, tricep and shoulder blade skinfold measurements were also collected to determine body fat distribution.  Physical fitness assessments included a sit-and-reach test, timed sit-up and push-up test, pacer test, and 400-meter run. 

The following are highlights from the University of Miami's UHealth System study of the Miami-Dade County Parks Fit2Play Program for the 2010-2011 school year:

Body Mass Index (BMI)
Health professionals measure height and weight and convert to an age- and sex-specific BMI percentile to screen for potential weight problems in boys and girls.  At their initial baseline testing, 56% of the Miami-Dade County Parks Fit2Play participants were normal weight, 15% were overweight and 28% were obese.  BMI percentiles did not increase during the school year among participants, indicating the maintenance of normal weight for height, or prevention of overweight/obesity status.  While height, waist and hip circumference increased over the one year time period, it is attributed to normal growth velocity (versus an abnormal increase due to overeating and/or physical inactivity). Collectively, these findings convey that the participants were growing normally, while not gaining weight abnormally.

Blood Pressure
The findings indicate that participants, who had high blood pressure when they began the Miami-Dade County Parks Fit2Play Program, lowered their blood pressure as a result of their participation.  In blood pressure tests, health professionals measure the systolic blood pressure (SBP), the pressure at the peak of each heartbeat; and the diastolic blood pressure (DBP), the pressure when the heart is resting between beats. Analysis showed that mean SBP decreased significantly from 114.85 mm Hg at baseline to 113.02 mm Hg at post-test. Similarly, mean diastolic DBP decreased from 71.58 mm Hg to 69.52 mm Hg at post-test. From baseline to follow-up the percent of those with systolic hypertension (systolic high blood pressure) significantly decreased from 36.4% to 25.7%, while those with normal SBP significantly increased from 43.9% to 55.1%.  Similarly, over the one year study, those with diastolic hypertension (diastolic high blood pressure) significantly decreased from 16.3% to 13.3%, while those with normal DBP significantly increased from 55.1% to 68.2%. 

Physical Fitness Tests
Miami-Dade County Parks Fit2Play participants significantly improved in all physical fitness tests: sit-and-reach (repetitions were 25.7 at baseline and 26.2 at follow up); push-ups (repetitions were 21.7 at baseline and 24.9 at follow up); sit ups (repetitions were 25.2 at baseline and 28.6 at follow up); 400 meter run (time decreased from 260.5 seconds at baseline to 201.7 seconds at follow up). 

Nutrition Knowledge Assessment
In perhaps the most critical area leading to permanent change in behavior, this group significantly improved in their nutrition knowledge assessment from baseline to post-test (mean change from 6.37 questions correct to 7.3 questions correct).  Specifically in post testing, 22% more children answered "I should limit the amount of TV" and were able to identify soda as the bad drink (versus water) correctly at post-test versus baseline.  Similarly, 21% more children were able to correctly identify how physical activity improved their health and 20% more answered "it is healthy to eat fruits and vegetables at every meal" versus at baseline.

"The University of Miami's findings are very exciting and significant for the Miami-Dade County parks system that continues to set a strong example for the entire parks and recreation industry," said National Recreation and Park Association President and CEO, Barbara Tulipane. "This study provides scientific support for NRPA's health and wellness initiatives and for a belief that all parks professionals have held for years, which is that parks and recreation truly enhance the quality of life for all people."

"We are very proud of the Miami-Dade Parks & Open Spaces Department for achieving this milestone in scientifically validating the value of one element of what parks and recreation agencies bring to communities across the state," said Florida Recreation and Park Association Executive Director Eleanor Warmack.  "Their dedication to the collective mission of improving the lives of Floridians through parks and recreation has been consistently commendable, and is one reason why the Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department is recognized as a leader in the parks and recreation industry in the United States!"

Now in its seventh year with park locations conveniently located throughout all major regions of Miami-Dade County, the Miami-Dade County Parks Fit2Play Program operates Monday through Friday, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., throughout the school year and during Miami-Dade Parks' winter break, spring break and summer camps.  It is currently offered at 34 Miami-Dade County parks.  The unique after-school program provides kids ages 6-14 with fun, fully-supervised activities that are focused on fitness, nutrition and wellness, as well as developing their appreciation of nature, science and cultural arts, while they make and play with new friends.  Under the supervision of Miami-Dade Parks certified therapeutic recreation specialists, registrants with disabilities can choose to participate alongside children without disabilities or in groups composed exclusively of kids with disabilities. 

"Most of our Fit2Play participants return year after year, and they enjoy the fact that we chart their progress," said Miami-Dade Parks Wellness and Fitness Coordinator Shawn Ramirez. "There is a great sense of accomplishment in seeing the great big smiles on their faces when they achieve a personal fitness goal." 

Miami-Dade County Parks offers transportation to pick up children at nearby schools and transports them to the program at select park sites.  Providing an added convenience to parents and caretakers, it allows for early drop-off and late pick-up to and from program sites. 

The program is also affordably priced, and while fees are necessary to recover the costs of funding the program, including staffing and materials, the fees are implemented on a "sliding scale" to allow families of all economic backgrounds the ability to benefit from the program.  The sliding scale, based on need, is made possible through a combined initiative of The Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade and Miami-Dade County, which has created a $300,000 scholarship program for families of children who qualify based on income and family size, similar to the requirements for state and federal aid.  That initiative in conjunction with the partnership between Miami-Dade County Parks and The Children's Trust has enabled many families in need of financial assistance to register their children in the Miami-Dade County Parks Fit2Play Program for free.  Miami-Dade County Parks is funded in part by The Children's Trust, a dedicated source of revenue established by voter referendum to improve the lives of children and families in Miami-Dade County.

"In addition to our work with the University of Miami, our partnerships with the Health Foundation of South Florida, our Health Department, the Children's Trust, the National Recreation and Park Association and the Florida Recreation and Park Association, Avmed, Aetna, Pediatrics Associates, the Miami Marlins, and the Trust for Public Land, among others, are what have enabled us to develop our youth fitness and wellness program into one completely effective and sustainable, evidence-based program," added Kardys.  "Fit2Play is benchmarked against the nation's best programs, and the collaborative effort to make it successful has truly been a remarkable effort by all involved," adds Director Kardys.

About the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation & Open Spaces Department:
Nationally accredited, a three-time winner of the NRPA National Gold Medal Award and winner of the 2009 Florida Governor's Sterling Award for excellence in management and operations, Miami-Dade County Parks is the third largest county park system in the United States, consisting of 260 parks and 12,848 acres of land.  It is one of the most unique park and recreation systems in the world.  Made up of more than just playgrounds and athletic fields, it comprises out-of-school, sports-development, and summer-camp programs; programs for seniors and people with disabilities; educational nature centers and nature preserves; environmental restoration efforts; arts and culture programs and events; the renowned Zoo Miami and the Deering Estate at Cutler; the Crandon Tennis Center; the annual Sony Open tennis tournament; golf courses; beaches; marinas; campgrounds; pools; and more.  For information about Miami-Dade County Parks visit or call 3-1-1.

Miami-Dade County Parks is supported by The Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade a non-profit 501(c)3 organization supporting the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department's efforts to further develop Miami-Dade County's world-class parks system for residents and visitors.  Its mission is to create a healthier, more livable and sustainable Miami community by ensuring the implementation of the Parks Open Space Master Plan and the development of year-round park and recreation programs for local children, adults and people with disabilities.  For more information on the Parks Foundation, please visit

To request material in accessible format, information on access for persons with disabilities, or sign language interpreter services (7 days in advance), call 305-755-7848.


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