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Combating Child Obesity with Creative Play

Whatever Happened to Playtime?

girl on tablet
Unrestricted creative play is a natural and important behavior for children. Even in the animal kingdom, playing is a natural way for young creatures to learn about their world. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that “play is essential to the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical well-being of children.” Play helps children learn how to interact with others, teaching them to cooperate, negotiate and overcome challenges. Play also fosters creativity as children engage their imaginations both individually and collaboratively. But engaging in creative play is becoming less common in children, and it may be contributing to our childhood obesity epidemic.

Creative Play versus Sports and PE

kid with basketball
Rather than releasing children to play on their own or with friends and siblings, many parents and caregivers look to organized sports and physical education classes to meet physical activity needs. While such programs may provide opportunities for physical activity, not all children enjoy them. Rather than fostering a love for physical activity, the emphasis on competitive performance and the rigid structure of organized programs can leave some children feeling excluded, inferior and turned off. Creative play, on the other hand, allows children to express themselves in a physical and interactive way that is unrestricted by rules and regulations.

Obstacles to Creative Play

boy with game control
Many changes have occurred over recent decades that have reduced opportunities for creative play. Single-parent homes, parents working long hours and concerns for safety have led to increased supervision of children by adults. A barrage of media has heightened our awareness of the dangers that might befall unsupervised children. Access to technology plays an important role in childhood obesity, according to “Psychology Today.” Even very young children are clocking several hours a day in front of some sort of screen, whether it be televisions, computers, phones or tablets. Children of parents who put in a lot of screen time are more likely to mirror that behavior. A recent study published in the “Journal of Public Health” found a strong correlation between screen time and the likelihood of metabolic syndrome among teenagers.

Providing Safe Play Opportunities

girls playing
Because children are often not empowered to make decisions about their daily activities, it is up to adults to provide opportunities for creative and vigorous play, preferably outdoors. Parks and playgrounds can provide open play spaces that allow for adult supervision from a distance. When parents actively engage in play with their children, it creates a strong emotional bond that fosters healthy family relationships. Limiting screen time and encouraging physical activity should be a priority for parents who want to raise healthy and well-adjusted children. Sedentary lifestyle behaviors in childhood inevitably lead to poor health and obesity during adulthood.

Resources

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References

American Academy of Pediatrics: The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bond: Focus on Children in Poverty
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/1/e204.full

PTO Today: Combating Childhood Obesity With Physical Play Opportunities
http://www.ptotoday.com/pto-today-articles/article/67-combating-childhood-obesity-with-physical-play-opportunities

Psychology Today: An Overlooked Factor in the Childhood Obesity Epidemic
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-wealth/201312/overlooked-factor-in-the-childhood-obesity-epidemic

*Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

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