Tuesday, August 04, 2009

My "when we were kids we played outside" rant

Often I'll hear the ridiculous argument, "When we were kids we played outside" thrown around to explain childhood obesity. Presumably proponents of this argument believe that the answer to our childhood obesity problems lies with getting kids to build treehouses and play tag. In fact PartipACTION was recently revived (at taxpayer expense) for this very purpose, this despite the fact that during the 30 years of ParticipACTION's reign childhood obesity rates in Canada rose by roughly 300%.

So why don't kids play outside anymore? Have kids changed? Of course not. Kids, just like adults, are consumers. If they've got a few free hours they'll weigh out their options and choose the one that's most enticing. I think people tend to romanticize our heady days of cops and robbers and forget that when we were kids the only alternative to playing outside was staying inside with our parents. We didn't have XBOXes, the internet, cable television or text messages. We had parents who wanted us to do chores, clean our rooms, or worse yet, talk - go figure we played outside.

And could playing outside really make a difference to weight? For me playing outside often involved lazy bike rides to parks where I'd climb a tree and sit for a while, or building a fort in the backyard, or spending literally hours on a swing. It certainly didn't involve high intensity exercise. Sure, I played baseball and football with my friends - but then so do kids today as organized sports have taken off over the course of the past 20 years.

Sadly even high intensity exercise doesn't burn nearly as many calories as would be fair and consequently if we do in fact get kids outside to play leisurely outside, it's not as if their pounds are going to melt away.

Getting your kids to play outside is a fantastic idea for their health, but please do me a favour and stop explaining away childhood obesity with whimsy.

If you want your children to play outside and live an active lifestyle, the best thing you can do is lead by example and live the life you want your children to live and then hope for the best.

The only other option would be installing XBOXes in our parks but I think that might defeat the purpose.