Childhood obesity is an epidemic in America. More than 12 million American children — or one out of every six children — is obese. Obesity is determined by looking at a child’s body mass index (BMI), which measures body fat based on weight and height. Childhood obesity is defined as having a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and gender. Children are at risk of becoming obese if they:
- Regularly consume sugary and high-fat foods
- Do not get enough physical exercise every day
- Spend too much time engaged in a sedentary activity like watching TV or playing video games
- Live with others who do not encourage a healthy lifestyle
- Eat food to relieve stress or cope with problems
- Are genetically at-risk for obesity
- Are not educated about nutritious eating and the importance of exercise
- Do not have access to healthy foods
Other factors, like a fear of a child’s safety, prevent parents from allowing their children to get outside and move around. Some children live in areas where there are few safe places to play.
How has the obesity epidemic reached so many children in America? Here are more alarming childhood obesity and exercise statistics to illustrate the seriousness of the issue:
- About 91 percent of children have poor diets in America.
- Less than half of American children get the recommended 60 minutes of physical exercise a day.
- Schools have reduced recess time, especially for older children.
- A quarter of high school students watch three or more hours of TV on the typical weekday.
The most significant contributing factors to childhood obesity are a lack of exercise and unhealthy eating habits. As you can see, not enough emphasis is being placed on the importance of healthy eating. Some families may not be able to afford healthy, nutritious food for their families. Unfortunately, junk food is often the least expensive and most convenient option.
The media makes matters worse. According to a food marketing report by the Federal Trade Commission, drinks marketed to children and teens averaged 20 grams of added sugar per serving in 2009. Companies spent $1.7 billion marketing food products to youth, advertising sugary cereals, fast food and unhealthy snacks through TV commercials, internet advertising and other media sources.
Children are also spending too much time in front of a screen every day. Most American children are spending between five and seven hours every day in front of a screen, whether they are playing video games, watching TV or using a computer. Parents should limit their kids’ screen time to one hour a day. Considering these numbers, children are spending far too much time sitting and being physically inactive. Plus, when kids stay inside watching TV, they are more likely to overindulge on snacks.
Parents may think it is safer to keep their children indoors, but a sedentary lifestyle is far more harmful than many may realize. Without exercise, children are not burning excess calories, and they are at higher risk of becoming obese. Obesity can have serious consequences, such as:
- An increased risk of developing health issues like diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, joint problems and sleep apnea
- A higher risk of obesity as an adult that leads to illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer
- A more significant chance of experiencing bullying, depression and low self-esteem
What can we do as parents, educators and community members to prevent obesity in our schools and homes? How can we change our perceptions about outdoor play and encourage healthy and happy living for the children in our community?
Although the word “epidemic” is intimidating and overwhelming, there are plenty of prevention strategies we can use when it comes to childhood obesity. Good health is within every child’s reach if we work together to promote play and nutritious eating.
How Play Can Help Fight Childhood Obesity
Children who struggle with obesity may lack the motivation to start an exercise program on their own. Rigorous activity can be difficult for obese children, and they may become quickly discouraged. Even worse, they may not want to give exercise a try. What’s the solution? Encourage children to get exercise through outdoor play.
When physical activity is fun, children are more motivated to engage in it. Adults are not much different. Think about a time when you skipped the gym because it was boring. Perhaps you prefer a scenic hike opposed to 20 minutes on the treadmill.
When exercise is fun, we look forward to the activity, and we do not see it as a chore. We are more likely to avoid activities we do not enjoy, even if they are good for us. If a child often prefers to be inactive, it does not mean they are lazy — they just need to find a physical activity they enjoy.
Playtime is an essential factor in childhood obesity prevention because most kids love to play outside. The earlier you teach a child the benefits of playtime, the more likely they will carry an appreciation of outdoor exercise throughout their lives.
Early prevention is the most effective tool in the fight against childhood obesity. Children who struggle with their weight as early as preschool often continue to have health issues throughout their lives. It is recommended that children get 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day.
Overall, outdoor play helps prevent and fight obesity because it:
- Is Fun: Children are more apt to be physically active if they enjoy the physical activity. They will be more motivated to exercise when it is fun because they will not see exercise as a chore. Attempting to force a child to be active can hurt their health and weight loss goals. Play teaches young children that physical activity is an enjoyable habit.
- Encourages Exercise: Children who play outside are more likely to engage in physical activity, whereas time spent inside promotes a sedentary lifestyle. A 2006 survey analysis suggests that for every minute a child spends outdoors on average each day, they are approximately one percent less likely to be obese. Play also discourages screen time by providing a substitute activity to fill free time.
- Lets Kids Be Themselves: Not all children are athletes — however, some children love sports. Play allows each child to express themselves and get moving in a way that is fun for them. They not only use their bodies while playing, but they also engage their minds.
- Is All-Inclusive: Children of all developmental levels, physical abilities, ages, and sizes can reap the health benefits of playing, laughing and having fun while burning calories during play.
- Reduces Stress: Being active and playing helps reduce stress and anxiety. When a child is less stressed, they may be less likely to turn to food for comfort, and will also feel stronger and empowered to beat obesity.
- Builds Friendships: Play encourages children to make new friends and strengthen relationships. Socializing helps a child feel less isolated and more encouraged to be active. They will be less interested in sitting indoors alone if they have friends waiting for them to come outside and play.
- Can Be Fun for Everyone: Children often imitate adults, and you are never too old to play. You can set an example by engaging in physical activities and showing children how fun playtime can be.
- Allows Kids to Move at Their Own Pace: An obese child should not start out exercising too intensely. Playtime will enable them to ease into physical activity, challenge themselves when they are ready and learn what they are capable of. Once they realize how fun physical activity can be, they will start to feel better about themselves, and they will look forward to these activities.
- Is Non-Threatening and Non-Competitive: Children struggling with obesity may feel shy about competing in sports or on teams. Play allows them to build physical skills in an environment that welcomes everyone. Introverted children have the option to play alone on the playground or park and get the exercise they need.
Children can struggle with obesity at any age. The earlier you help a child maintain a healthy weight, the better. Here are some ways to approach physical activity and keep obesity at bay for children according to age group:
- Ages 2 to 4: Children in this age group naturally want to be up and moving, so do not turn on the TV. You can teach healthy habits early by simply taking them outside to play games or visit the playground. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under two years old should not watch TV at all.
- Ages 5 to 12: Encourage children to get 60 minutes of physical activity every day in ways they enjoy. Unstructured play gets kids moving their arms and legs. They can play in the park, explore walking trails or dance to their favorite songs — whatever makes them happy. Do not pressure children to compete in sports if they do not wish to. Remember, physical activity should be fun for children. This will encourage them to enjoy an active lifestyle and help them to develop active habits that will grow with them into teenage and adult years.
- Ages 13 to 18: Praise teenagers for being active every day and reward them when you can. Even at this age, you can make a difference in how a teen views an active, healthy lifestyle. Encourage unique opportunities to get up and moving, like doing volunteer work or participating in a charity event like a 5k. Do not sign a teen up for activities they are not interested in or express anxiety about a teen’s weight. Encourage a positive attitude towards physical activity.
The Benefits of Playgrounds
You can find plenty of articles and books about physical activity and childhood obesity, and it is highly likely all of them will tell you physical activity needs to be enjoyable for a child to engage. Consider how outdoor activities are in constant competition with the lure of television shows, movies and digital devices.
Playgrounds are designed to pull kids away from the screen and get them excited about outdoor playtime. While an empty yard or grassy field may not inspire much excitement, a vibrant, engaging playground will.
Playgrounds invite children of all sizes, abilities and ages to swing, balance and climb. At the playground, children unknowingly build muscle, burn calories and boost happiness. They are too busy playing with other children and exploring their imagination to notice the exercise they’re getting. Time flies by on the playground, making it easy to get the recommended hour of physical activity a day.
Playgrounds help prevent obesity because children learn to look forward to playing on the playground. They learn that moving around outside can be a lot more satisfying than sitting in front of a screen for hours on end. Every child deserves the opportunity to experience the joy of play.
Playgrounds are vital to any school or community for their many health-promoting benefits such as:
- Helping children develop fine and gross motor skills
- Increasing flexibility
- Building balancing skills
- Helping kids build endurance
- Strengthening muscles
- Improving bone density
- Boosting lung and heart functioning
- Promoting overall better physical and mental health
Modern playground equipment goes far beyond the typical slides and swings many of us grew up with. Today’s playgrounds are specially designed to help children get exercise in the way they need while being mentally stimulating and enjoyable. Playgrounds are built to keep up with the times and get children excited about outdoor playtime.
You can even add equipment specially designed for fitness and wellness to any playground to make exercise a fun feel-good part of a child’s day. Adults can also join in and set an example by their child’s side while improving their health. Screen time can never replace playtime.
The Importance of Play
Every child needs play in their life, every single day. Sadly, many American schools are not placing a high enough value on recess and outdoor play. A 2009 study found that three in 10 children had either no recess during the day or a break of fewer than 15 minutes.
Today’s children have less unstructured playtime in school than they did in the 1960s and 1970s, possibly as an effort to improve academic scores. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of children affected by childhood obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s.
In addition to a focus on academic performance, schools need to consider how children learn better after taking a recess break. Children are more attentive and can retain information better when they get a chance to recharge during the school day. So, their overall academic performance improves.
- Infants and Toddlers: Very young children develop their senses by exploring their environment and experiencing different sounds, sights, sights and feelings. They begin to create an awareness of themselves and others. They learn to take turns and be gentle with other children through play. They also start to see how the world works and learn to play independently.
- Preschoolers: Preschoolers learn through their senses, and play allows them to continue exploring the world and relationships around them. Outdoor play especially helps to promote sensory development because a child can listen to different sounds, feel different textures and see bright colors and new objects. When a child is indoors watching television or playing video games, they do not have a full sensory experience. Preschoolers begin to learn right from wrong as they play with other children and discover new abilities. Play keeps them physically active and decreases the risk of obesity.
- School-Aged Children: Free play improves academic performance and boosts memory and learning abilities because playtime lets children recharge. Physical activity also helps the brain develop new connections. Children build critical life-long skills while playing, such as how to negotiate, make decisions and resolve conflicts as they learn to play with other children.
- Teens and Adults: Play does not end in childhood. It’s important for teens and adults, too, because play relieves stress, boosts creativity, improves brain functioning, and promotes mental, emotional, social and physical well-being.
During play, children use their imagination as they create fantasy worlds, act out different roles and express their emotions. They also learn to work in teams to accomplish common goals and make decisions as they choose which game to play next. They are also exposed to dealing with differences and disagreements. The benefits to play are seemingly endless, but in some of the most notable benefits of playtime include:
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Boosts self-esteem
- Increases joy, wonder, curiosity and creativity
- Teaches to include rather than exclude others
- Increases attention span
- Improves non-verbal language skills
- Increases balance, flexibility, physical strength and endurance
- Teaches problem-solving skills
- Promotes language and communication
- Develops spatial awareness
- Teaches right from wrong
- Encourages teamwork
- Improves academic performance
- Decreases risk of obesity
- Develops number relationship when counting and keeping score
- Builds up brain cells
One of the biggest causes of obesity is a lack of physical exercise, and playtime encourages physical activity. Communities, families and schools can help children maintain a healthy weight and prevent obesity by supporting and promoting playtime and recess.
Playground Equipment From Playworld
One of our goals at Playworld is to promote physical health with our playground equipment. We’re proud to say we’ve designed and manufactured playground equipment specifically for children and adults who strive to live healthy lifestyles.
Playworld designs playground equipment intended to stimulate children’s imagination and make them want to play. We offer everything from standalone playground equipment that can be added to an existing play area to full playground structures that can be customized to fit your space.
Playground Fitness Equipment
Our fitness and wellness equipment is accessible to adolescents and adults of all abilities, so you or your child do not have to already be in shape to get in shape. We want to show all children that being fit is fun and attainable. Our fitness and wellness equipment includes:
- ENERGI Fitness System: Exercises the essential muscles by using different stations. Users can balance, pull, squat and more with the assistance of our specially designed bars, handles and steps.
- Stretch and Go: All ages can enjoy the relaxing and beneficial activity of stretching their muscles with our Stretch and Go equipment.
- LifeTrail Advanced Wellness System: LifeTrail stations works muscles as users keep their feet in contact with the ground and bear their weight. LifeTrail play equipment provides the perfect low-impact workout.
Partner with Playworld
At Playworld, we never stopped believing in the value of play. Our goal is to save play because it is not an option — it is a necessity for all children. We think every child in every community deserves access to fun, stimulating playgrounds.
If you are looking for playground equipment to boost the joy and fitness of your community or school, reach out to Playworld today. Join us in our mission to provide high-quality, innovative playground equipment that inspires creativity and good health. You’ll enjoy many benefits when you work with Playworld, such as:
- Inclusive playground design
- Experienced, passionate representatives ready to answer your questions and help you get started
- Multiple certifications to ensure all equipment meets the highest standards
- A history of excellence, from our brand development in 1971
- Partnerships with Let Kids Play! and KaBOOM!
- Resources to help with successful playground planning
- Budgeting options and resources
- A wide array of products including stimulating playground equipment for early childhood development, school-age children, adolescents and adults.
At Playworld, we strive to bring vibrant playgrounds to every community. Whether you want to add accessible playtime to your school or other community space, contact Playworld today and help children enjoy greater health for generations to come.