Home Health & Wellness The Positive Impact of Outdoor Play on Childhood Obesity

The Positive Impact of Outdoor Play on Childhood Obesity

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A depressing side effect of the Covid pandemic is paediatric obesity. Children were cooped at home for long hours before screens. This sedentary lifestyle is linked to the risks of being overweight. A child can be termed as obese if their BMI is higher than 95% of other children of the same age and sex. There is a positive association between rising BMI and admission to ICU due to COVID-19. It can further lead to non-communicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular issues later. A 2017 global study by The Lancet had predicted for the first time that obesity in children and adolescents between 5 and 19 years of age may surpass the percentage of underweight ones by 2022. 

Changing lifestyles and traditional diets being replaced by western diets, which have higher concentration of sugar, oil and fat, are among the reasons for the climbing childhood obesity rates. Added to this, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk of respiratory diseases and liver issues. Obesity and such infections can come together to:

  • Adversely impact the immune system
  • Damage inflammatory functions
  • Cause high cholesterol 
  • Increase the risk of impaired glucose tolerance
  • Cause sleep apnoea, asthma and insulin resistance

These can impact a child’s life and minimise social interaction. The good news is that something as simple as outdoor play can help prevent and fight obesity.

Outdoor play and obesity: how helpful is it?

About an hour of moderate intensity exercise can be highly beneficial. Walking the dog or playing in the local park are great ways to boost physical fitness and build strength and resistance to disease. These can promote a healthy childhood that can translate into disease-free adulthood. Children without any playground access are 26% more likely to be obese than those that can benefit from these facilities. Even the most basic and low-cost commercial playground equipment can benefit children more than spending time on their phones, even if they are playing games or engaging with friends on social media. A study found that excessive screen time increases the risk of children developing binge eating disorder (BED).

Playgrounds with equipment that promote obstacle course play, fitness activities, sports, or interactive play have proved effective in engaging children for longer. Diverse equipment, like nets, trails, swings, climbers, zip lines, play systems, expression swings, and slides, also helps in encouraging children to spend more time in the playground. Frequent upgrades and modifications can attract the attention of parents, who can in turn encourage their children.

How does physical activity help?

Physical activity can increase the calories the body uses to burn energy, causing a calorie deficit that ultimately help shed pounds. Strong scientific evidence says 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobics, 75 minutes of vigorous exercising or a mix of both can help consistent weight loss.  

Exercising tips for obese kids 

Children who are overweight should not begin with rigorous activity. Doing so can leave children feeling tired and irritable. The resultant sore muscles can discourage them from pursuing the physical activity. There could also be nerve injuries. Over exhaustion from physical activity can also impact mental health. Beginning gradually can keep the child motivated and engaged for longer.

Age Group

Exercise Time

Type of Exercise

Kids180 minutes/dayLight to Moderate to Vigorous
Teenagers60 minutes/dayModerate to Vigorous
Adolescents60 minutes/dayModerate to Vigorous

The easiest activity for obese individuals is walking. This, too, needs to be increased gradually to 12,000 steps per day. Playground experts can create nature-themed trails and paths, which can encourage kids to take a stroll. Swinging is another great way to tone up. Playgrounds with multigenerational mother-child or multi-person swings and structures have proved helpful not only for children to shed body fat, but also for developing deeper bonds with their parents and other kids.

Consistent outdoor activities can help kids manage their weight. An inspiring play space motivate kids to visit every day. It is important to regularly check for wear and tear in the playground equipment and replace the park safety surfacing as frequently as needed. It is also a great idea to ensure the playground is accessible to kids with special needs. Inclusive playgrounds help children develop sensitivity towards others, which can be a supporting environment for kids with obesity.

Robert Haynes did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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