Coming to you this morning from Australia is an article by Adele Horin in The Sydney Morning Herald about an American professor of family science at the University of Maryland, Sandra Hofferth, who gave a talk there about how our children’s lack of outdoor activity is leading to obesity at younger ages.
“There’s been a quadrupling of the number of overweight children in the US since the 1960s,” she said. “A big part of the problem is that play has become more sedentary.”
The article goes on to say that, the percentage of boys who spend time outdoors walking, camping and gardening is down to just 8%, from 16% in the late ‘90s. That’s an eye-opening drop in just a 10-year time span and I believe that it could have larger ramifications than just an increased occurrence of childhood obesity.
The larger fallout from fewer children participating in outdoor activities like camping and hiking could mean that our children will be much less likely to develop an appreciation for the outdoors and all it has to offer. With no emotional attachment to nature and its beauty, our children – the future of this country – will be less likely to pick up the torch on environmental conservation and preservation issues that they are sure to face in the decades to come.
We as a people tend to show concern for things that are familiar to us. Like learning a second language, developing an understanding or appreciation for something is best undertaken at an early age, before life’s distractions set in and we become too busy to take on something new. Not every child is going to become another John Muir, but each one deserves the opportunity of the outdoor experience.
Our children deserve better than 14 or 15 hours of TV every week. There is more to life than video games and computers, but it is our responsibility as parents to teach our children, through our own example, all that life has to offer.
You know what’s really scary, along these lines? It’s that set of public service commercials about the need for kids to play outdoors instead of spending all their time in front of a computer or TV screen.
Nothing wrong with the basic message, of course. But then they send us to a website where we can learn about things kids can do outdoors.
Have we really reached the point where one generation has to first be taught things to pass on to their kids?
Maybe I’m getting to be an old curmudgeon. But when i was a kid, we were dedicated to two things: Staying out of the house as much as possible, and trying to make sure our parents didn’t find out (and boy, do I have a long list of those things).
It’s all well and good to say this was easier for people who lived in the country. Or even the burbs. But I grew up in the heart of city. Yet there was always something we could find to amuse ourselves.
Brook’s last blog post..Dec 27, Catfishing. Catfish fishing for the Big Fish.
That’s awesome, Cory – what do you guys usually do? I’m thinking about getting a telescope so the kids can look at the planets. They’ve been getting interested in that, lately.
I’m a big believer in kicking the kids outside. We “camp” in the backyard a few times a month and take real camping trips as often as we can.
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What an alarming trend!
I agree with Eric, the parents are the ones who can change things.
I remember going on a trip to Glacier National Park with my family one summer.
We stayed in a one room log cabin one night. We sat by the fire all evening, played poker with pebbles for chips, and had a great time.
No TV, no video games, no Internet…it was great.
That trip in the cabin, plus our other great actual camping trips (actual camping) are the trips I remember enjoying the most as a kid.
Although I probably put up a fight as a kid when it came to spending time without TV, I sure appreciate my parents showing me all the outdoors has to offer.
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Great article and definitely concerning. I think the problem lies with us – the parents. If they see us enjoying the outdoors they’ll be that much more likely to enjoy the outdoors themselves. Yes, peer pressure will be there to play video games and I’m not against video games, but they need to be used in moderation – just like anything else.
So when it comes to xmas time, why not get outdoors-oriented gifts such as a sleeping bag or telescope instead of 1 or two of the games that they requested.
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Adam and Karen – my kids are diametrically opposed, when it comes to the outdoors. My youngest daughter (7) is definitely a TV and video game (even though we don’t have video games?) person, while my oldest daughter (8) and my 4-year old son will drop whatever they are doing for any opportunity to go for a walk, or hike.
Karen – I think you’ve just helped me out with a Christmas gift!
Wow, what frightening statistics. I am confident, however, that they are right on. I was lucky enough to grow up in a small town in western Maine, where there was a vast forest right out my back door. When my brother and sisters and I got home from school, we were given a snack and then sent outside until supper time. I climbed every tree, knew every deer trail and fox den in the north forty, and spent as many nights on the lawn in a sleeping bag, as I did in my bedroom. As an adult, my own children have easy access to the outdoors, but it seems that I am constantly fighting to get them away from the video game, TV and computer. I sometimes “make” my daughter go for a walk with me– and trust me– it’s not that enjoyable when she doesn’t want to go! But we have to put up with the sulking if we are to instill a love of nature in this generation. And if we are to have active, healthy kids, we’ve got to “kick them outside.” I write about the healing power of nature in my “tween” novel, Grumble Bluff, and I truly believe that an affinity with the outside world is vital to raising a respectful and healthy child. Karen Pease, author of juvenile fiction, karenbesseypease.com.
I’ve done some reading on this subject, starting when the psycologists came up with the term “Nature Deficiency Disorder.”
I’m not one who believes in “tags”, but there is definitely a problem when children don’t do what they were meant to do, which is become a part of the natural cycle.
Unfortunately, I’ve even seen it in my own children, who live with their mother in a different state. “Dad” they say, “is an outdoorsy kind of guy.”
According to the article you wrote about, there has been a 50 percent drop in the number of kids spending time outdoors. Is it any wonder that the childhood diabetes rate has doubled in the same time period? These are serious statistics.
What it comes down to is that our bodies are not made to live the sedentary lives that we are living. Just 100 years ago, the average person burned twice as many calories and ate half as many as we do in a single day.
Combine this with the fact that since the Industrial Revolution, we have embarked on a “We control nature” way of life instead of a “We are a part of nature” way of life, and it’s easy to say that the human species and the environment are in for some major problems.
Is it coincidence, do you think, that both a person and the planet are made of the same percentage of water, and a person has the same percentage of salt in his blood as the ocean has salt in it’s water?
We are, inexplicably, part of this world, whether we admit it or not, and not to act accordingly brings only mental and physical sickness.
Thanks for bringing it to the forefront.
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This has been of great concern to me. I was very fortunate to grow up in a rural part of Northern California back when there was next to nothing on any of the three channels our tv antenna picked up, so I spent a lot of time outdoors.
In fact, my parents were always willing to let me do stuff outside. I had a lot of freedom and it really helped instill the love of nature I have today.
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What a frightening statistic; 8% of boys partake in outdoor activities! I hope anyone who reads this take the time to introduce a kids to the wonders of the outdoors.
Thanks for pointing this out.