There are lots of reasons why you should send your kids outside to play, and here's another: You might be giving them five more years to live.
It may sound like hyperbole, but with one in three kids being overweight or obese, today's children are on track to be the first generation with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. A recent study published in Pediatrics found that surprisingly, older overweight children actually consume fewer calories than their slimmer peers. It concludes that low levels of physical activity "may contribute more to maintaining obese/overweight status through adolescence."
Clearly, establishing healthy eating habits is vital to our children's health. But kids also need to move and play. It's not just about their health as kids but throughout their adult lives. This great video from Designed to Move says it best:
Both synonymous with warm-weather outdoor fun, ice cream and playgrounds seem like a perfect fit. Maybe that’s why a proposed ban on ice cream vendors at a Brooklyn playground has caused such a stir.
Why the ban? Well, on the one hand, ice cream isn’t very good for you. But on the other hand, it’s delicious. Health-conscious parents are sick of dealing with the temper tantrums that their children will inevitably throw when they behold a cart full of heavenly frozen treats… that they can’t have.
But is a ban on ice cream vendors from the playground an absurd or practical solution? Are well-intentioned parents looking out for their children’s health or are they being ridiculous control freaks?
When it comes to the health and safety of our children, the challenge is this: How do we protect them without extracting every opportunity for the joy from their lives? Even today’s playgrounds routinely fail on that front. Just as the thrill of climbing is universal (even though a child could fall off and break an arm), so is the thrill of ice cream (even though it’s full of fat and sugar).
We’re big proponents of children’s health, but we’re also big proponents of joy. Being the first nonprofit to have its own Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor, we’re also big proponents of ice cream.
Of course, the main difference between ice cream and playgrounds is this: There is definitely such a thing as too much ice cream, but there is not really such a thing as too much outdoor play. As long as parents and children stay mindful of this fact, we say: Let the ice cream trucks stay!
Should we ban ice-cream-shaped slides while we're at it?
In honor of National School Lunch Week, MAT@USC has created "The Childhood Obesity Epidemic" Infographic, which offers a look at the disheartening state of affairs when it comes to our children's health. Although good nutrition is vital, it is only part of the solution. For each healthy school lunch a child eats, she also needs an opportunity to run around and play.
Consider the following stats on physical activity. Visit MAT@USC to view the full infographic.
There’s a new children’s book slated for release in September, and it’s aimed at children—presumably overweight girls—ages 6 to 12. According to the Barnes and Noble website, Maggie Goes on a Diet is about "a 14 year old girl who goes on a diet and is transformed from being extremely overweight and insecure to a normal sized girl who becomes the school soccer star."
Young girls shouldn't be worrying about diets any more than they should be worrying about mortgage payments. Girls and boys alike should be worrying about evading hot lava monsters and making it across the monkey bars. Then, cheeks flushed after a healthy dose of outdoor play, they should come inside to enjoy nutritious meals provided to them by their schools and families.
Instead, all too many children are lounging indoors fiddling with electronic gizmos and suffering from unhealthy eating options at their schools, in their homes, and in their communities. Then we tell them to go on diets.
As the childhood obesity epidemic grows, we seem to be turning to adult solutions. If it’s not dieting, it’s organized sports. While potentially a valuable experience for children, in our frenzy to give kids a "workout," organized sports are only becoming more demanding and more extreme. According to the Pikes Peak Courier View, "As many as half of all youth sports injuries are the result of overuse due to an adult-driven regimen of sports play and training so intense that a child’s body rebels."
Meanwhile, as Dr. John DiFiori, chief of sports medicine at UCLA, points out, "Children entertaining themselves at their own pace, in their own way, simply do not play sports until it hurts."
What it comes down to is this: If you give kids the space and time, they want to run around and play. If you give kids healthy food, they will eat it, even if they grumble about the greens. Placing our adult concerns and expectations on the shoulders of kids won’t solve childhood obesity—and if anything, it will only groom our younger generations to turn into neurotic, overworked adults.
Good for Maggie that she lost those extra pounds, but let’s shelve the book and send our 6- to 12-year-old girls outside to play.
"It seems like such a natural, obvious thing that children should be playing," says Dr. Ken Ginsburg, pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings.
So begins this eye-opening video that addresses critical issues facing children and families today -- namely, rising levels of stress and anxiety, obesity-related health problems, dramatically reduced time for free play and play outdoors, and hectic and overscheduled family life.
Featuring Dr. Ginsburg and Dr. Marilyn Benoit, Chief Clinical Officer at Devereux Behavioral Health and former president of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, "Prescription for Play" was produced in collaboration with the Alliance for Childhood. Doctor's orders: Watch this video!
Now, UK health minister Anne Milton is talking about enacting “play streets” across the country to help tackle its childhood obesity problem. In fact, the idea isn’t new: According to the BBC, the UK had over 700 play streets in the 1950s, but the idea “slowly died out.”
Milton has discussed closing certain streets on Sundays as part of a national effort to get kids and families moving, provide more space for kids to play, and set aside regular time for neighbors to convene and socialize.
It sounds like a no-brainer, but the proposal is drawing its share of criticism. Its most vehement opponent, Association of British Drivers' chairman Brian Gregory, told Autoblog UK, "It's not so long ago that the government assured us it was ending the war on the motorist. We pay several times over to use our roads, not be banned from them.”
Says Claire Armstrong, spokeswoman for Safe Speed, "It may also deprive many people, including those without children, from having proper, necessary and rightful access [to roads] when there are such few alternatives.”
While RAC Foundation Director Stephen Glaister concedes that “promoting places to play is a great idea,” he insists that “children need to be outside on more than one day a week – and the middle of the road is not the best place."
Glaister is absolutely right that children need to be outside more, and that’s why it’s important to provide them with as many accessible, affordable, community-oriented opportunities to unplug as possible. And many children will contend that the middle of the road is a wonderful place to play – if those pesky cars don’t get in the way!
Play streets can be—and are being—organized locally, but to get an entire country behind a play street initiative would help highlight the importance of play to our children’s health, and also set a significant precedent for other countries, states, and cities to follow.
Sign our online petition to express your support for play streets and to convince the opposition that a countrywide initiative does not have to infringe on motorists’ rights!
All families need to play, whether they have two kids or 18. In honor of Big Amazing Family Week, Discovery Health is partnering with KaBOOM! to spread the word about the vital importance of play to a child’s physical and mental health. Here are four reasons why all families, big and small, need to make sure that their children have ample time to play:
I am sitting on a patch of grass under a massive weeping willow. My friends and I are intricately braiding fallen branches, creating what will soon become a crown. We begin sectioning off the hanging branches, creating rooms in our castle. No sooner does the game begin than we emerge from under the tree hand in hand, laughing and running toward our next adventure.
Danielle Marshall, our Senior Manager of Research and Traning, fondly remembers playing outdoors as a child in her first post of a new series on the Altarum Institute's Health Policy Forum. Danielle goes on to say:
Does this type of play still exist for children? Can you imagine childhood without opportunities to play? Many of the adults I encounter speak fondly of their childhoods and recall play as a key component of their lives. So why is it that we adults quickly sacrifice children’s opportunities to play in the name of achievement, safety, or changing times?
The health of a society should be measured by the health of its play. The play of a healthy society should be rich and varied: imaginative, dramatic, physical, cooperative, solitary. Children—in urban, suburban, and rural areas—should have ample and easy access to safe and stimulating outdoor play spaces: creeks, woods, adventure playgrounds, pocket parks. Caregivers and parents should feel comfortable allowing children the time, independence, and freedom to play in their neighborhoods. Kids should be safe playing outside. Play should be afforded the same importance as math and reading, valued as truly integral to curriculum, as the foundation of learning. Cities, neighborhoods, and housing should be designed to support and sustain play throughout the life span.
In coming months, Danielle will be exploring issues related to the Play Deficit and its impact on health and public policy. Read the full post here.
Discovery Health is joining forces with KaBOOM! to help Save Play for one million kids this year. As we all know, the benefits of play for kids are undeniable: Children with a park or playground within one mile of their home are almost five times more likely to be classified as being of a healthy weight.
To provide real-world solutions to the health problem of childhood obesity, Discovery Health is presenting BIG KIDS, a one-hour special this Thursday at 9 p.m. e/p. BIG KIDS profiles the lives of two obese children and their struggles to embrace healthier, happier lifestyles. While one participates in a nationally renowned weight-loss boot camp, the other receives personal intervention-style counseling from top fitness and nutrition experts at home.
Highlights include a special appearance by motivational speaker and Olympic gold medalist Dominique Dawes on behalf of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, discussing the First Lady's Let's Move health initiative.
Discovery Health is committed to spreading the word about Save Play and getting its viewers involved in the movement to improve the state of play nationwide. Before you watch BIG KIDS, you can participate in a webinar tomorrow, at 1 p.m. EDT, featuring Dominique Dawes and our very own childhood development specialist, Danielle Marshall. "Healthy Classrooms, Healthy Kids" will teach you how to improve your child's health, including small, simple changes you can make in your classroom, in your home, and in your community to combat the obesity epidemic. Register here.
"But tell me, where do the children play?" Cat Stevens asked in his famous song. It's a good question. A recent report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that only one in five homes has a park within a half-mile. Half of the children surveyed said that it’s difficult to get to a playground or park from their house.
Apparently, we have a long way to go toward realizing our vision of a playground within walking distance of every child. The CDC asserts, “Youth without access to opportunities for physical activity during nonschool hours are less likely to be as physically active as their peers.” It goes on to say, “Preliminary evidence also suggests that access to parks, playgrounds, and recreation centers may lead to other healthy lifestyle choices, such as using modes of active transportation—like biking or walking to a park location.”
Parks, playgrounds, and recreation centers won’t crop up overnight (even our build-in-a-day playground model takes months of planning and preparation)—so what can we do for the kids who need to get moving now? On the bright side, the report indicates some other measures we can take:
We’ll keep doing what we do best—that is, building playgrounds. In the meantime, joining forces with educators, politicians, urban designers, community leaders, and concerned parents will help more children get moving (and playing) sooner. Ready, set, go!
Download the CDC report here (PDF).