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Busy parents struggle to promote active lifestyle at home

Not so long ago, the hours between the ringing of the last school bell and the flickering of the first streetlight were filled with peals of laughter and children’s shouts. Kids careened around the block with playing cards humming in the spokes of bicycle tires, claimed driveways for pickup games of basketball, and otherwise ran themselves ragged.

Today, many suburban neighborhoods remain quiet from 3 to 6 pm, as more kids have retreated indoors.

Whether lured inside by the Internet and video games, or told to stay inside while parents are at work, many kids today are no longer getting much exercise during these late afternoon hours. At the same time, many schools have reduced physical education requirements and scaled back recess time.

Most parents believe physical activity is an important component of their children’s health, and a significant number worry that their children are not getting enough exercise.

Nemours’ Rainy Day Play seminar- part 1: Kate Dupont Phillips of Nemours Health & Prevention Services on keeping kids active in uncooperative weather.

Nemours’ Rainy Day Play seminar- part 1: Kate Dupont Phillips of Nemours Health & Prevention Services on keeping kids active in uncooperative weather.


Busy parents struggle to promote active lifestyle at home

According to a survey conducted by National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic organization that funds public health research and initiatives, and the Harvard School of Public Health, 28 percent of participating parents reported that their children did not get enough physical activity during afternoon hours to maintain a healthy weight.

Dr. George A. Datto III, Division Chief of the Division of Pediatric Weight Management at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington hears this in his practice all the time.

“The routine advice of ‘just go outside after school and play when you get home is much harder to implement than it was before,” he said. For one thing, more parents work full time jobs and can be reluctant to send their kids outside to play unsupervised. In his practice, he advises parents to intentionally plan time for kids to participate in more structured physical activities, through after school programs run by the school district or community organizations.

While structured programs tend to push kids to engage in moderate to intense exercise, they can also be costly and require a certain amount of ferrying back and forth by parents.

For some families, finding ways to incorporate physical activity into the home can seem more feasible. These days there are a variety of multimedia exercise options available, from dance and aerobics videos, to active video games. (However, Datto cautioned that even active video games promote an activity that in the long term can lead to obesity.)

Nemours’ Rainy Day Play seminar- part 2: Nemours’ Mary Trotter discusses ways to get children active in the kitchen.

Nemours’ Rainy Day Play seminar- part 2: Nemours’ Mary Trotter discusses ways to get children active in the kitchen.


Busy parents struggle to promote active lifestyle at home

Just like adults, kids frequently need encouragement and structure to maintain exercise routines, Datto added. At home, there usually are no peers egging them on to climb higher and pedal faster, no coaches pushing them to run one more lap. For kids to maintain an exercise program at home, the parents often need to become the coach, either working out alongside them or motivating them along the way.

“Once again, it all comes down to supervision,” Datto said.

The good news is that research has shown that promoting an active lifestyle can have an enormous benefit on a child’s risk factors for obesity and associated health problems, Datto said.

He added that the younger children are when these lifestyle changes are implemented, the better the outcome.

Fortunately, engaging a preschooler in active play can be a whole lot easier than attempting to pry a teenager away from the computer. Young children already tend to spend more hours under direct adult supervision than older children. They are smaller, require less space to move around, and are easier to engage in silly movement activities.

Kate Dupont Phillips, a senior program analyst with Nemours Health & Prevention Services encourages families and childcare providers to create spaces in the home and classroom that can accommodate movement.

By designating even a small area for active play, parents can move any items that could get broken out of harms way and create a place where kids can play safely and freely without having to interrupt them every few minutes, said Phillips.

Every parent needs to be able to send the kids off to play for a bit while preparing dinner, showering, or completing chores. Having an area for active play readily available can be a healthier alternative to plunking kids down in front of the TV.

Phillips also cautioned against activities that combine exercise and TV, warning that media-based exercise does not typically push kids to the point of breathlessness necessary for moderate to vigorous exercise.

Phillips further encourages families to find ways to engage in active play together. “These things need not be complicated…you don’t have to have a lot of stuff to be active. You can use things you already have, like pillows and laundry baskets. You can make things out of old milk jugs. Really, it’s just a matter of creating that time and space for that lifestyle to evolve within families.”

Phillips presented some ideas for families to incorporate active play at home to parents at the Delaware Children’s Museum this Wednesday evening as part of a monthly seminar series presented by Nemours. This week’s seminar, Rainy Day Play, focused on ways to keep young kids active when stuck inside on a rainy day and offered recipes for healthy snacks, as an extension of the museum’s month-long focus on healthy habits.

Throughout the month of March, the DCM has offered several temporary and pop-up exhibits designed to promote healthy food and activity choices.

“Healthy lifestyles is a layer that we try to keep present all year long. That is actually a museum cornerstone. This month we are expanding further on the theme of healthy habits,” explained the museum’s Director of Education Jennifer Bush.

In the permanent exhibit, The Power of Me, kids can explore the food plate, the USDA’s alternative to the outmoded food pyramid, try out a rowing machine, or examine a model skeleton. Throughout the year, kids can test their skills on a giant climbing structure called the Stratosphere.

This month, the museum has converted a large gallery space into the DCM gym, complete with balance stations, scooter boards, stilts, and a ball pit. Bush said that the exhibit makes exercising fun for kids while providing parents with ideas about how to bring active play indoors at home. “We don’t want these ideas to stay within the walls of the museum. We hope to see them in the home and the classroom,” she added.

In the words of Dr. Datto, “You can change habits and your children can be healthier.