Alarmingly, recent statistics suggest that there is an increase in child obesity within the UK, attributed, in part at least, to a lack of good old- fashioned exercise and outdoor play!
Once upon a time, typical Christmas or Birthday gifts might have been bicycles, scooters, dolls or board games, whereas today, kids are more likely to demand ipads, playstation consoles or even laptops! This means that our youngsters spend far more time sitting around indoors than previous generations might have even considered.
If you are aged over 30, you’ll probably remember spending most of your time playing outdoors until dusk! Indeed, many of us enjoyed building tree houses, playing hopscotch or simply playing cowboys and indians in local woods. Things change however and the expectations of children, and indeed some parents, are now quite different, thanks to a whole raft of new indoor activities and pursuits. Naturally, it is a sorry state of affairs that recent events in society have led to unsupervised outdoor play being of serious parental concern. However, when in a safe and closely monitored environment, being outdoors has great benefits and can be the source of great enjoyment for toddlers,childrens and parents alike!
Child Obesity Studies
Recent studies have revealed that 3 out of 10 children between the ages of two to 15 are overweight with 14-20% of these being categorised as obese. Obese children are at risk of developing asthma, diabetes, sleep apnoea and, in some cases, even cardiovascular disease. A recent study conducted by the NHS identified that between the years of 2000 and 2009 there was a staggering four-fold increase in obesity-related illnesses. Further, 26.7% of admissions were directly attributable to obesity while 73.3% were admitted as a result of an illness that could be related to obesity (e.g. struggling to breath or not being able to sleep). Another similar study, also conducted by the NHS, suggests that by 2050, approximately half of the UK population will become obese!
Of course, there are many reasons for child obesity including, for example, a poor diet but there is a general consensus that lack of exercise does in fact play a big part.
Benefits of being outdoors
As well as reducing obesity, there are of course many other advantages for children who play outdoors. Children need to engage with nature and appreciate their surroundings. Indeed, many children whilst they will have heard of cows will not have actually seen a real one – even by the time they get to primary school! Regular visits to the countryside or even just supervised outdoor playing can broaden the minds of our youngsters in so many different ways!
In addition, being outdoors can help to develop muscle strength, help to keep weight in check and increase flexibility. This in turn can help children in years to come, especially when undertaking sports or other physically demanding activities at school, college or work. It’s true to say that balance and co-ordination skills can also be further developed through simple activities such as playing on swings, bikes, skates or scooters.
Of course not everyone has easy access to parks for swings or posesses expensive toys. If this is the case, then, in addition to the development of physical skills, personal skills can also be developed when out walking, enjoying the great outdoors. Playing games such as ‘guess the bird’ or ‘eye spy’ can help brain development for example and games such as ‘tag’ with other children can help increase levels of confidence, building team working skills and improve communication skills.
Of course, when venturing outdoors, it is important to make sure that our youngsters are wearing the right types of clothing. This can actually help to motivate toddlers and children by ensuring that they are comfortable, warm and dry as they enjoy themselves outdoors. Kids clothes such as toddlers’ wellies can help to encourage them to jump in puddles, whilst ‘all in one’ suits may encourage them to play outside for longer. Similarly, well fitted waterproofed walking boots can help to prevent painful feet that can divert their attention from the enjoyment of the outdoor experience or the number of miles being walked!. These are all small simple but effective tricks to keep children busy and occupied as they enjoy the great outdoors!
Symptoms of child obesity
Below is a short list of possible symptoms of child obesity:
- trouble climbing stairs, steps or hills
- trouble playing running games such as football or rounders
- restless sleep and/or snoring
- shortness of breath
- knee or hip pain
For further advice and guidance contact your local NHS or the NHS website.
To reduce obesity, or the risk of it developing, encourage your kids to regularly run, jump, skip, swim, swing, skate, ride a bike or perhaps take up a new suitable sporting activity.
So, in conclusion, is child obesity a cause for concern? Well the statistics sadly suggest this is the case. Of course, showing by example is probably the best form of encouragement, so if parents get involved and enjoy the great outdoors themselves, the chances are that the kids will follow suit, identify the benefits, and enjoy being outdoors too!