One of the most concerning health related issues facing children today is the rise of childhood obesity. In fact, statistics say that one out of five children is considered overweight, and since 1980, the rates of childhood obesity have doubled and teenage obesity has tripled. In our hectic lives, we often look for convenience foods or fast foods that are not always the best nutritional choices. Another factor leading to the increase in childhood obesity is the lack of physical activity. The bottom line however, is that our children and families are consuming too many calories and are not physically active enough. As a result, more and more people develop chronic diseases such as diabetes which will affect their overall quality of life.
Researchers have noted that one of the strongest factors to support physical activity is the amount or time children spend outdoors. Children who spend time outdoors tend to be more physically active than those who don’t. In today’s video game society, it is more important than ever to make intentional plans to spend time outdoors. People today are spending more time indoors than ever before with some people spending more than 80% of their lives indoors!
For children especially, spending time outdoors can provide benefits that go beyond physical activity. Outdoor activities promote cognitive and social development through unstructured play with other children. Outdoor activities encourage imagination, through exploration of the natural environment. Some researchers suggest that exposure to light influences children’s’ moods, performance, sleeping patterns, and sensory development.
One way to motivate children and families to spend more time outdoors is to foster an interest in nature. Taking your children to a local park, hiking in the woods, digging for fossils are all ideas on how to get your children active outside. So as the weather changes, get your children outside, let them explore, let them get dirty, and let them play towards fitness.
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Guo SS, Chumlea WC. Tracking of body mass index in children in relation to overweight in adulthood. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1999;70:S145–148.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008.
Institute of Medicine. Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2004.
CDC. Physical activity levels among children aged 9–13 years—United States, 2002. MMWR 2003;52(SS-33):785–788.
Writer: Kathy Green, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Butler County.
Reviewer: Shannon Carter, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County.