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updated: 9/23/2011 8:24 AM

Wheaton to participate in Nickelodeon's Worldwide Day of Play

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Wheaton Park District is teaming up with a household name -- at least in many households with preschoolers -- in its effort to defeat childhood obesity.

As part of Nickelodeon's eighth annual Worldwide Day of Play, the park district will offer special activities Saturday, Sept. 24, designed to encourage children and their families to get off the couch and move around. The four-hour event will give families a chance to try an obstacle course, fitness classes, health discussions and other activities that promote an active lifestyle.

"It's not running on the treadmill or jumping on a bike," said Margie Wilhelmi, the park district's director of marketing. "That is more of a 1980s mentality of exercise. We will incorporate fun into it."

The event starts at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Wheaton Park District Community Center, 1777 S. Blanchard St. Every year, Nickelodeon's television stations and websites go off the air temporarily to encourage families to play.

It is this family-oriented approach that Wilhelmi says must be a component to a successful effort to combat childhood obesity.

"Any type of fitness or wellness program has to be a family buy-in," she said. "It has to involve everyone. It's important because the obesity rates continue to climb."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the obesity rate in children 6 to 11 years old climbed from 7 percent in 1980 to 20 percent in 2008. The rate in children ages 12 to 19 more than tripled from 5 percent to 18 percent. The study says that "obese" means having excess body fat.

For Wilhelmi, getting the family out on Saturday can provide a launching pad for the fight against that climbing rate.

"Sometimes people say video games are to blame," she said. "But I feel we tend to shelter kids more nowadays. When we were kids, we were walking everywhere, we rode bikes everywhere."

While the main aim for the inaugural year of the event is to help in the fight, Wilhelmi said the park district also can showcase its programs.

"We saw this as a way of continuing that (childhood obesity) initiative and get kids out to play and be able to show them different offerings we have at the park district," Wilhelmi said. "We are excited to bring this to the community."

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