(SEATTLE) -- Nearly half of all U.S. preschool-age children don’t get outdoors at least once a day for parent-supervised playtime, researchers reported Monday, causing concern among experts who say early exercise habits could protect children from obesity later in life.
Many children might not be getting enough outdoor exercise because of barriers faced by single parents and families with two working parents, said Dr. Pooja Tandon, a pediatrician with the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, who led the research.
It might also come down to a “cultural shift as to how families spend their time,” Tandon said, citing all the gadgets and screen time occupying everyone in the house. “There may be missed opportunities for kicking those kids outside the door when it’s appropriate and safe.”
Tandon also said that the lack of daily outdoor exercise among preschool children (defined here as those in the year before kindergarten) also might stem from parents assuming “that young children are spending their day running around, that they’re active,” she said, suggesting that some day-care centers and babysitters are not getting children outside often enough, or for long enough, to meet the 60 minutes of daily exercise recommended by the National Association for Sports and Physical Activity.
The reasons child-care providers are not be meeting these recommendations might be diverse, including ”some real, some perceived,” Tandon said. Yesterday’s rain should not prevent an outdoor outing today, she said. And, she added, “Some child-care providers say children didn’t bring a jacket or they wore flip-flops. Depending on staffing, maybe the class doesn’t go outside. ”
The good news, Tandon said, is that “these young children are naturally programmed to be active if given the opportunities.”
Tandon’s study, which appeared online Monday on the website of the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, was based on parental surveys from a national study of nearly 9,000 U.S. children, a sample size representing about 4 million children. The children, all born in 2001, were followed for several years and their parents, usually mothers, were interviewed several times, including the year before their children entered kindergarten.
Along with finding that 49 percent of children were not getting outdoors with a parent at least once every day, she and her colleagues from the research institute and the University of Washington found that those youngsters whose parents took them outdoors to play tended to be boys, children with lots of playmates and those whose parents were exercisers.
Children more often fell short of recommended exercise if their mothers were Asian, African-American or Hispanic, although the study didn’t delve into the reasons.
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