New Study Says More Daycares Are Denying Kids Outdoor Time

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Are kids in daycare spending enough time outdoors? New research reveals that most children (around 70 percent) are not.

The study, called the Preschool Eating and Activity Study (PEAS), polled 30 child care centers from across the U.S. during November 2009 through January 2011. The purpose of the study was to find what attributes of daycare centers (playgrounds, outdoor time) are associated with higher levels of activity.

Disturbingly, researchers found that a staggering 32 percent of daycares had no scheduled time for outdoor play. Additionally, researchers found that only three in ten children had a full 60 minutes of outdoor playtime, the bare minimum recommended by experts. The study listed inclement weather and construction as the two main reasons for limited outdoor time. The study also showed a link between being outdoors and getting physical activity: the children in the PEAS study who spent at least 60 minutes outdoors were more likely to be physically active throughout the rest of the day.

Riley at IU Health's Dr. Michael McKenna feels strongly that physical activity is crucial for young children. “Studies show that with things like gym and recess, kids do better in school and they’re more attentive,” he says.

But just because kids aren't going outside, said Dr. McKenna, doesn't mean they aren't getting enough activity. “There's nothing magical about being outside,” said Dr. McKenna. “It's easier from a health standpoint [to be outdoors] because it's set up to be active. There's stuff less likely to break and it's beneficial for running and jumping and throwing.” According to Dr. McKenna, there are no physical or psychological harms in being indoors, as long as children are getting plenty of physical activity. In the study, 378 children out of the 388 total had “at least some active time, either indoors or outdoors (median, 68 minutes).”

Dr. McKenna instructs children to get 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity a day, indoors or out. The reason, he says, is not so much to prevent things like obesity, but to set healthy habits going forward into adolescence and adulthood. “Having active lifestyle is good for heart health and life expectancy as an adult,” he said. “Starting those habits now is the key.”

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