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Shaping Healthy Behaviors with PlayStreets

Program brings sports, fun, and fitness to local communities By Bechara Choucair, MD, Commissioner, Chicago Department of Public Health

WIth five major professional sports teams at the core of its history and culture, it is no surprise that Chicago is a sports town. It is a city where athleticism, health, and fitness are celebrated.

At the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), we want to empower our kids to develop healthy behaviors by being active through sports and fitness. Also, we want to ensure that parents have the best resources available to help instill an active lifestyle into their family.

And that is why we started PlayStreets Program brings sports, fun, and fitness to local communities.

An innovative new program to help combat childhood obesity, PlayStreets secures city streets to offer open and safe spaces for families to get active.

PlayStreets spaces feature basketball courts, obstacle courses, jumping castles, life-size chess, jump rope, hula hooping, dancing, Zumba, and more. It is a fun, effective, and creative way to directly target our city’s children, mostly in neighborhoods with limited access to play lots.

In the United States today, one in five kids doesn’t have access to a playground. That’s millions of children who can’t pick up a ball, run outside, or have fun in a safe environment.

Available data reveal that the obesity rate for Chicago kids between ages two and seven is more than twice that of young children in the United States as a whole. Among older children, disparities also exist between Chicago and the rest of the country, with 71% of high school students and 29% of adults not getting adequate physical activity.

One Tool in Toolbox

In our five-year strategic health agenda, Healthy Chicago, one of our targeted goals is to reduce adult and childhood obesity by 10%. We have identified a comprehensive strategy to help us reach our goals. PlayStreets is one tool in our toolbox that offers a variety of interchangeable activities that meet the needs of Chicago’s diverse population and culturally different family structures.

And by creating an environment that incorporates multiple aspects of health, including diet and exercise, PlayStreets promotes healthy living. It is a great stride in the right direction.

In addition to the many physical activities offered by PlayStreets, children and parents snack on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products that contain the nutrients we need to maintain healthy lifestyles. Personal trainers and nutritionists are also on site and available to give advice to families on developing healthy eating plans.

PlayStreets is endorsed by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her “Let’s Move!” physical activity and fitness campaign. It is a joint effort with agencies that support and advocate making healthy choices available and accessible to all Chicago residents.

Non-profit community organizations are responsible for implementing PlayStreets in Chicago neighborhoods and for coordinating day-to-day logistics and operations. Those organizations include: Active Transportation Alliance, Gads Hill Center, Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago (LISC Chicago), World Sport Chicago in partnership with community-based organizations in a number of Chicago neighborhoods, including, Pilsen, Little Village, Brighton Park, Woodlawn, Chicago Lawn, and South Chicago.

PlayStreets is a public-private partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL). BCBSIL is the exclusive funder for the PlayStreets program through a $317,000 grant that also includes continued financial support for the joint CareVan community immunization program with CDPH.

Over 70 PlayStreets events are scheduled in six Chicago neighborhoods from now until the end of November.

To learn more about the program, please go to or Twitter @ChiPublicHealth. Dr. Choucair will respond to emails at and on Twitter @choucair.

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