As director of ally development and partnerships for the National Parks Conservation Association, Karen Nozik connects youth to the 401 national parks in the United States. Thanks to her hard work, new partnerships are being made with national parks to help not only Americans’ physical health but also mental health as well.
What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?
I see too many children with their faces glued to screens. There is too much focus on digital technology and social media, and not enough on getting kids outside to run around and have fun and burn calories. It strikes me that social media isn’t very social!
How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?
With nearly 80 percent of our nation’s population living in cities — places where open spaces are few and far between — we are working hard to expand opportunities for young people to access their urban parks. There are 401 national parks across the country, including many in the biggest cities in the country.
What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?
I spend a lot of my time building partnerships. I connect the dots for people who may not see a clear connection between parks and health. Of course, parks are not the ONLY solution to solving childhood obesity, but they are certainly an important piece of the puzzle. Getting public health decision-makers to realize this and to advocate for parks is a big step in the right direction. By the way, obesity is not the only health issue where parks play a significant role. [Parks help address] mental health issues, too — depression, anxiety — as well as eco-system health, clean air, clean water and habitat protection, to name a few.
Who is your role model in your work?
Susie Stephens, a friend and inspiring advocate who was killed tragically in 2002 while in the line of duty. She was a tenacious and effective activist working to build physically active communities.
What healthy snacks did you enjoy growing up?
I ate an apple with my lunch every day from kindergarten through senior year of high school!
Each week, our own Zach Brooks speaks with a Leader to get a quick look at why he or she loves working to create healthy environments for kids. Want to take part? Visit Zach’s profile and contact him.