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 the way parents tightly schedule their kids’ play dates and classes while seemingly forgetting the value of free play and outdoor time. “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 Sport 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.”