Many Children Missing Outdoor Playtime
April 4, 2012

Many Children Missing Outdoor Playtime

New research published online by Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that nearly half of preschoolers do not have a parent-supervised outdoor playtime each day.

The authors said that young children may benefit from playing outside by developing good motor skills, vision, cognition, vitamin D levels and mental health.

The researchers used nationally representative data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort for the report, which include a sample of 8,950 children.

The authors wanted to determine the frequency of parent-supervised outdoor play by preschoolers based on parents' self-report.

They also aimed to characterize the children who were most at risk for less frequent parent-supervised outdoor time.

According to the researchers, half of preschool children in the nationally representative sample are not being taken outside to play on a daily basis by either of their parents.

"For children who do not have a regular child care arrangement besides their parents (and therefore, likely do not have other structured venues or care providers to take them outside on a regular basis), 42 percent did not go outside daily," the authors wrote in the paper.

They found that 51 percent of children went outside to walk or play at least once a day with either parent.  Also, 58 percent of children who were not in child care went outside daily.

The team said they did not find a significant association of the frequency of outdoor play time with the child's television viewing, mother's marital status, household income or parent perceptions of neighborhood safety.

They found that racial profile played a significant role in whether a child would be taken outside daily or not.

Compared with white mothers, Asian mothers had 49 percent lower odds, black mothers 41 percent lower odds and Hispanic mothers 20 percent lower odds of taking their children outside daily.

"Our results highlight the considerable room for improvement in parent-supervised outdoor play opportunities for preschool-aged children, which could have numerous benefits for young children's physical health and development," the authors conclude. "In particular, efforts are needed to increase active outdoor play in children who are girls and nonwhite."

The researchers found that kids with a few regular playmates were more likely to get daily outdoor time.

Tami Benham Deal, who studies kids' physical activity at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, told Reuters it was import to consider what type of exercise children are getting when they play outdoors.

"They might be sitting in a sandbox -- they could be spending 20 to 30 minutes building sand castles and tunnels and the activity could be very low in intensity," said Benham Deal.

Dr. Pooja Tandon, a pediatrician at the University of Washington in Seattle, who worked on the new study, said moms and dads should talk to other adults who take care of their children to emphasize the importance of playing outside.

"As parents are the most important role models and decision makers for their preschoolers, they need to be aided and empowered to provide ample outdoor active play opportunities for their young children," Tandon wrote along with colleagues.

The authors said that future studies that take more variables into consideration need to be done.

"Future studies that better quantify outdoor time, longitudinally examine the relationship between outdoor time and measured physical activity, and study other potential benefits of being outdoors would be important," they noted.