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Playing Outside Could Lead to Healthier Children

by AOSSM March 1, 2011

Child playing soccer

Childhood obesity has become one of the most widespread public health problems in the United States, and it has received tremendous media attention in recent years. Obesity in children and adolescents has also been thought to be a significant risk factor for cardiac disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure later in life.


Do American children meet the Guidelines?


Does much of the childhood population engage in 60 minutes of physical activity, and does that activity level increase or decrease over time? Laura Basterfield et al. published a study in the January 2011 edition of Pediatrics that showed that the physical activity levels of children are low. They found that the children averaged 26 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at an average of 7 years old and 24 minutes per day at an average of 9 years old. Only 6.4% of children averaged the recommended 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity at age 7 and 5.7% did age 9.


A Proposed Solution


As gloomy as this data seems, there might be a fairly simple solution. Russell Jago et al. published a study in the February 2011 edition of Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise looking at the influence of best friends on a child's physical activity level. The authors determined that the physical activity levels of 10- to 11-year-old children were closely related to physical activity levels of their best friends.


Encouraging children and adolescents to get outside with their friends and play will largely meet the Physical Activity Guidelines. It really isn’t that complicated. There are numerous examples of activities that kids can do together that are both fun and also have aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening properties.


For example, riding a bicycle or walking a dog can serve as moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Games with friends, such as playing tag, or more formal sports, are terrific ways to get vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Likewise, playing on playground equipment, playing tug of war, or climbing a tree are muscle-strengthening activities, while push-ups, sit-ups, or more formal resistance training can be used by older adolescents. Impact sports and activities, such as running, jumping rope, and formal sports like tennis and volleyball can help strengthen bones.


It is important to remember that children and adolescents should meet these Guidelines with a variety of activities. Engaging in activities that stress different body parts will avoid overuse issues and decrease the chance of injury. The STOP Sports Injuries campaign aims to keep kids active in sports and exercise while decreasing injuries that can occur. There are a variety of resources available to parents, coaches, and physicians to educate them and promote safety in sports and other activities.


Patterns of low levels of activity and high levels of sedentary activity are established in childhood and only get worse as they get older. Let’s work to get kids outside playing with their friends, exercising, and playing sports to keep them healthy for life.


What are some other ways that each of us can work with our community, schools, employers and our own families to  get kids outside and active more frequently?

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Playing Outside


3/3/2011 2:32:07 PM #

Childhood obesity is a topic that I am fairly familiar with from an academic standpoint. Much of my senior thesis consisted of integrating youth development principles into public health programs in an effort to improve adolescent health outcomes in areas like childhood obesity. My current internship also focuses on improving adolescent health holistically and has offered me the opportunity to explore programs such as Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" Campaign, Healthy Schools Campaign, and various other childhood obesity/school initiatives.

With that said, having a background in this public health concern is helpful in understanding the steps needed to improve adolescent health. Some suggestions for ways to get kids moving are:

1. Involve parents- Often times, if parents are overweight/obese, their children are as well. Encouraging parents to learn healthy nutrition and the importance of physical exercise can greatly impact their child's health choices. Offer after-school parent/child fitness classes where parents can exercise in one group-fitness room and children can be in another room.

2. Buddy system- Similar to what the blog stated about friends who have similar physical activity levels as their friend, encourage families to become buddy systems. Make play dates in which parents are spending recreational time together and kids can spend recreational time together as well.

3. Encourage families to participate in a family outdoor activity/sport- Not only does this increase recreation, but increases quality family time. The community can participate in family versus family intramurals. If families do not want to compete, they can set aside a half an hour a day to do something active- go for a walk with your kids, go to the park, go for a bike ride.  

4. Encourage families to eat meals together and for parents to cook with their children. I read in a magazine the other day that many cooking schools are offering parent/child cooking classes so that children can learn elements of healthy eating, cooking, and nutrition at a young age.  

5. Not all children are interested in participating in sports, so if schools and parents could encourage children to participate in activities where you are moving like dance, theater, or even drawing children may tap into other interests while still being physically active.

Eva G. United States |

1/9/2012 5:21:02 PM #

It is sad to know that in today's society school-aged children do not get enough exercise nor do you hardly see kids outside playing anymore. Our company, (Link Removed) works strenuously with local schools and community organizations to help children have the outdoor resources they need for physical activity. Just as our company donates supplies and resources such as outdoor furniture and toys, so too can other businesses join all across the country to start making a difference in our kid's lives. They deserve to be healthy and it's a shame that we've let them down in today's schools by taking away Physical Education classes, etc. We can all make a difference! Let's work together to get our kids outside playing again!

Brent Kennedy United States |

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