Jane Clark calls this the age of "contained" kids.
“Children are transported from car seats to high chairs to baby seats to [couches in front of the] TV,” said Clark, movement specialist at the University of Maryland.
"It's partly for safety, of course," said Clark (professor and
chairwoman of the university's department of kinesiology). “But
children, even infants, don’t move enough these days. This sets the
stage for a sedentary, unhealthy life, “she and other experts warn.
"Parents think physical activity takes care of itself in kids," said Clark. "But it doesn't."
A study published in the medical journal The Lancet supports Clark's point. Researchers from the University of Glasgow in Scotland tracked the movements of 78 three-year-olds by having them wear a matchbox-sized monitor clipped to their waistband for a week. The researchers found the average toddler was active for only 20 minutes a day. This is much less than the hour recommended by pediatricians.
Making matters worse, children today spend much less time playing outdoors than their parents did, according to a study conducted by Rhonda Clements (professor of education at Hofstra University in New York and president of the American Association for the Child's Right to Play, a group that promotes physical activity).
In a 2002 poll conducted by Clements and her colleagues, of more
than 800 mothers, 71 percent said they recalled playing outdoors
daily as children. Only 26 percent of them said their kids play
outdoors every day.
“Although crime was a concern, the mothers also cited lack of time and too much time spent by their children watching television or playing computer games,” Clements said.
Inactivity is having a troubling effect on American kids.
According to federal health statistics, 13 percent of children ages
6 to 11 and 14 percent of teens ages 12 to 19 are overweight.
Overweight children are more likely to be overweight as adults.
“A little conscious effort to get your kids active can instill a lifelong exercise habit,” Clements and other experts agree. “Regular exercise has been linked to a reduced risk of many cancers, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and many other ailments.”
Where to begin?
“You can begin to encourage movement when your child is just an infant,” Clark advised. “Rock your baby in your arms. When he is older, encourage him to crawl through a living room obstacle course to make activity fun.”
“Don’t use the word exercise in children beyond infancy," Clark said. “Focus on fun. Don’t ask your child if they want to exercise. Instead, ask them if they want to go outside and kick the ball around."
“Be a role model. That means working out and staying active yourself. You’ll be a great motivator for your children,” Clark said. "Compared to parents who don’t exercise, in a household where both parents exercise, kids are six times more likely to exercise," she said. "If one parent exercises, the child is three times more likely."
"Every kid initially enjoys physical activity," Clark added. "By
the time they are 15, the majority of kids don't like sports."
“It's crucial,” she said, “to keep activity fun and plan it as a family.” “Plan something on the weekend that is physically active, even if it's just walking around a museum or a fair," Clark said.
Clements tells parents to provide their children with goals or
incentives to be active. "It could be as simple as creating a
backyard obstacle course together,' " she said.
“Give them a choice, too. Maybe they can play on the swing set or play a game of tag with their siblings,” she suggests.
“Encourage creativity,” Clements said. "Encourage kids to create
their own toys." Remember paper airplanes and mud puddles?
Rae Pica, a children's movement specialist in Center Barnstead, N.H., is a big believer in the motivational power of music.
"Play music," Pica said. "Have a parade at home. Break out the pots and pans."
“Break out the bubbles,” Pica suggested. “Kids can run and jump to burst them.”
“Be sure to ask about the commitment to activity when choosing a
day-care program for your child,” Clark and Pica suggested.
“You don’t want to know if they have recess, you want to know if they encourage physical activity,” Pica said.
The National Association for Sport & Physical Education was
so concerned about the sedentary lifestyles of today's children
that it issued physical activity guidelines in 2002. They are aimed
at helping meet the developmental needs of infants, toddlers and
Clark, of the University of Maryland, chaired that task force. Among the recommendations was to encourage children to be physically active from the moment their life begins.
More information To learn more about physical activity for children, visit the National Association for Sport & Physical Education.
SOURCES: Jane Clark, Ph.D., professor and chairwoman, department
of kinesiology, University of Maryland, College Park, and
chairwoman, Early Childhood Physical Activity Guidelines Task
Force, National Association for Sport & Physical Education;
Rhonda Clements, E.D., president, American Association for the
Child's Right to Play, and professor, education, Hofstra
University, New York City; Rae Pica, children's movement
specialist, Center Barnstead, N.H.
© 2017 HolaDoctor