At KaBOOM!, we believe that the well-being of society begins with the well-being of children. This is why we’re such big advocates of balanced and active play, which is essential to enable children to thrive. Yet, as Gretchen Reynolds writes in a recent article “This Is Our Youth” for The New York Times Wellness blog, far too many of today’s children are not getting the play they need to thrive.
A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that America’s kids, across all ethnic groups and socioeconomic circumstances, are becoming less healthy with every passing year. Only 42 percent of the children who participated in the study were as fit as they should have been given their age, and kids’ average fitness has declined by about 10 percent since 2004.
Unfortunately, this is not entirely surprising: today’s children play less than any previous generation. Declining recess, a lack of safe places to play, overly-structured schedules, too much focus on one activity, and too much screen time have all replaced balanced and active play.
Janet Fulton, a lead CDC epidemiologist who oversaw the new study, says that “kids who are less fit when they’re young are likely to be less healthy when they’re adults.” In other words, the play deficit threatens to create a vicious cycle from childhood through adulthood.
Reynolds writes in her article: “The finding raises troubling questions about the future health and longevity of our children and suggests that parents and other authority figures need to find better ways to get our youth moving.”
Solving this urgent problem requires engaged, caring adults. “Inactivity is a family issue,” notes Dr. Gordon Blackburn of the Cleveland Clinic. “If parents aren’t active, kids won’t be.” But, on the positive side, “If it’s fun, kids will keep doing it.”
Behaviors take root in the context of relationships, and families are arguably the most important relationship for driving healthy behaviors. Along with fostering improved health, adults can unleash kids’ creativity and encourage them to take on age-appropriate challenges through play.
Ultimately, no matter their beginnings or background, all kids need balanced and active play. Caring, engaged adults are essential to ensuring kids get the play they need to thrive.