State seeks to get more children outdoors

State officials unveiled a new initiative Tuesday aimed at encouraging young people to spend less time on the couch and more time outdoors.

Known as "Take It Outside," the program is aimed at helping children reconnect with the natural world. On Tuesday, Gov. John Baldacci was joined by two Olympic gold medal winners — 1984 medalist Joan Benoit-Samuelson and 2006 medalist Seth Wescott — in announcing the program during an event in Cape Elizabeth.

"Sometimes we need to lead our kids outdoors," Baldacci said in a statement. "We need to get them away from the iPod and video and text messaging and just get them out to smell the beautiful air and enjoy the beautiful resources we have."

At this point, the "Take It Outside" program is largely a public relations campaign to motivate adults and young people to spend more time outdoors.

Next spring, the governor will host the Blaine House Conference on Youth and the Natural World in order to encourage cooperation between the state and organizations already working to connect young people with nature.

Baldacci has also directed officials within his administration to evaluate the role that programs and policies play in engaging Mainers with the outdoors.

"We’ve all seen the statistics regarding obesity, especially in children," Dr. Erik Steele, chief medical officer at Eastern Maine Healthcare, said in a statement. "There’s no secret to improving those stats: Just get out and move. Encouraging our children to hike, bike, swim and…

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