Growing Green: How to fight obesity among the urban young?

Summer School Thinking City - Janna Bystrykh, Han Wiskerke, Arnoud Verhoeff
The Netherlands
Public space

Health and Wellbeing & Food
Growing Green: How to fight obesity among the urban young?
Janna Bystrykh, Han Wiskerke, Arnoud Verhoeff

A city where the Dutch social playground movement began, where the creation of public and neighborhood-oriented playgrounds became a key priority after the war, and where Aldo van Eyck built more than 700 playgrounds, Amsterdam is now facing a new challenge – an epidemic of child obesity. More than 23% – when the national average is 15% – of the city’s young population between the age of five and nineteen is overweight. Since the 1980s, much of the city’s utopian playground infrastructure has been dismantled, some due to safety measures, others due to maintenance costs and alternative development opportunities. Only some 20 van Eyck playgrounds still exist today… In September 2013 the city of Amsterdam – in collaboration with primary schools and through the organization of public and educational events for children and parents – has launched the “Amsterdam’s Approach to Healthy Weight” program aiming to reduce and prevent the number of overweight children.

Amsterdam has the highest national density of supermarkets per square kilometer where in four of its eight neighborhoods there are more than 100 supermarkets within a distance of 1km – an incredibly high density of stores, supermarkets and snack-bars – each with their own branding and advertisement strategy promoting consumption. What is the visual language of food advertisement in a city today? How is it perceived by children? How does it differ across the city? What is the educational value of advertisement today?

A number of Amsterdam schools are trying to balance the growing over-accessibility of food by serving only water and milk during school hours and promoting sugar- free morning snacks. Other city initiatives include “Water from the Tap”, a city wide program aiming to stimulate children to drink water instead of sugary refreshments. The popularity of school gardens to educate young children about growing food is once again on the rise. What are the other possible tools and (spatial) mechanisms that can be developed to educate children and their parents about the culture and production of food while living in the city? How do the various initiatives impact, affect local communities?

There are 209 primary schools in Amsterdam today. During the first week of the team will work together to create a Food and Play Atlas of the city using the location of the primary schools as focal points, a 500m radius conceptually defines children’s key environments in the city. The atlas will be a critical juxtaposition of observations and conclusions on spatial, social, and cultural topics related to food and exercise in the city, including: playground infrastructure (quality, quantity, typology and intensity of use); educational efficacy (on food production, consumption, school and community programs); food advertisements campaigns (what is for sale? what is for children?). During the second week of the summer school in direct dialogue with a neighborhood representative, the team will work on a campaign to promote health and wellbeing among children – a mix of educational, promotional and spatial possibilities.

This is one of the case studies that has been developed during the Summer School Thinking City 2014.

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