Columbia Mall Play Area Gets New Green Get-Up

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COLUMBIA - You may have noticed Boone Hospital recently renovated the Columbia Mall Play Area with an outdoor theme and nature design.

The hospital's overall mission is to improve community health.  It says an increasing health concern nationally, as well as locally, is childhood obesity.  In an effort to raise awareness of the growing problem, the hospital chose the theme to encourage outdoor activity for children after families are done shopping.

Jennifer Polniak is a clinical dietitian and diabetes educator with the hospital.  She is also the coordinator for Head to Toe, a new weight management program for kids that focuses on healthy eating, activity and high self-esteem.  Polniak said the new play area is an adjunct of that program and an example of how to build on resources to get the hospital's mission across to the community.

"It really builds on what we are trying to focus on which is getting activity in a natural way, you know everything doesn't have to happen in a gym and P.E. class because we know that's a limited experience for a kid," she said.

Jacob Lueke with Boone Hospital Media Relations also played an active role in the new design.  Along with trees and lady bugs, the area has images of activities and facts about what Columbia has to offer outdoors along the outside walls.  There are also URLs on the walls that people can visit to get ideas about different activities around the community.

Mall-goer Jennifer LeBlanc has two boys, one almost one year old and another that's four and a half.  Her and her family moved here from outside Orlando, Fla. six weeks ago.  She takes her kids to the play area about once a week.  She agrees with the message behind the new design, but thinks the cold weather that's on its way may deter kids from a lot of outdoor activity.  LeBlanc also thinks there still could be some room for improvement.

"I think it would be neat if it was even bigger so they'd have even more room to run, and maybe a seasaw or something," she said.

The hospital hopes the renovation serves as a reminder for families to get outdoors and enjoy fresh air after a day of shopping.