Kids on the Move
Where do we go from here?
Over the last couple of generations activity levels among our young people have been declining. The likely results of this are alarming - increases in obesity, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis to name just a few. Active kids are more likely to become active adults and the benefits to their health and wellbeing, both physical and mental are very substantial. In fact the benefits of increasing activity levels in our community are second only to the benefits of reducing smoking levels. Why have our kids become so sedentary? What are the barriers to getting them moving again? What are the opportunities and resources in families and the community?
Why so sedentary?
One area of research is the less intense incidental exercise kids get in their daily lives - how they get around and how they play. Only a generation ago, in the 1970's, most primary school children walked to school. These days nearly three quarters go by car. The more cars on the roads, the more parents feel that it just isn't safe for their kids to walk or ride to school.
Television has been popular from its very beginnings. Now screen-based entertainment has expanded to include a huge variety of computer games, videos, DVD's and of course the internet. One TV is considered the bare minimum and every piece of equipment has its remote. The metabolic rate while watching TV is slowed almost to that of sleep.
A trend for houses to be bigger (15% over just the last 10 years) combined with smaller housing blocks is squeezing the back yard almost out of existence. Small families and parents working long hours are the norm and we discourage our kids from playing in the streets or going to the park on their own. Where once groups of kids roamed freely around our suburbs, they are now staying 'safely' at home. Unfortunately this doesn't protect them from obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
The 2004 Australian physical activity recommendations for children
The vigorous activities could include cycling, trampolining, skipping, roller-blading, scootering, swimming or an organised sporting activity such as soccer, netball, T-ball, cricket, basketball, gymnastics, dancing or martial arts. Twenty to 60 minutes, 3 to 5 times a week is ideal for this kind of activity.
Moderate activity is at least as important and the key to this is outside play. Mucking around outside with other kids (or an adult or the dog) and a ball is great. Keep a footy, basketball, tennis ball or frisbee handy. Free play outside has many benefits for kids. It helps develop creative and lateral thinking, social and communication skills as well as physical skills. It doesn't cost anything and also saves on driving time for parents.
Many popular kids shows are on during the 4 to 6pm timeslot. After dinner viewing is better as it doesn't compete with outside play. Tape those favourite shows and you can skip the ads as well.
How do we get there from here?
The 4 to 6 pm after school timeslot is thought to be critical for kids to be active. If parents or other family members can't be there to supervise, look for a family day care or after school care placement with a focus on sporty activities or outside play. In some cases parents may be able to stagger work hours so that each is home at school knock off time once or twice a week. Alternatively, groups of friends can sometimes arrange childcare swaps.
Although there is no real evidence to show that our streets are any less safe, in terms of 'stranger danger' than they were 40 years ago, many parents do feel concerned. It is important to look forward - to an active future that fits our modern lifestyles and aspirations. Although we can learn from the past, nostalgia will not get us very far. Families are important, but they can't go it alone. Schools and indeed whole communities need to get together as do all levels of government. The 'walking school bus' program is a great example of this, involving schools, volunteers and local government. The more children who joined in the supervised walk - the fewer cars.
Some more ideas
Can you remember movement games you played when you were a kid? Here are a few to get you started.
- Tag with a twist:
The child who is 'It' gets to say how the other children move from one safe zone to the other - run, gallop, hop, skip, jump, dance or fly like a jet plane.
Great with a long rope, a big group and some rhymes - or try a skipping rope challenge at home.
- Vegetables on the slide:
(You need a bunch of kids at the park for this one). First up the slide calls out a vegetable - say 'carrot' and all slide down like carrots until someone calls out another vegetable - 'potato', 'broccoli', whatever. There's lots of laughter with this game.
- Sprinkler day fun:
Chasey under the sprinkler means cool fun for kids while you water your lawn.
Article by Niki Campbell, APD
Reference: Vic Health Letter Issue No 24, Summer 2005
Added to site on : Thursday, 3 February 2005