How Playgrounds Fight Childhood Obesity
How Playgrounds Fight Childhood Obesity
Nearly one in five children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese. This is an alarming statistic, especially considering all the negative consequences of childhood obesity. Obesity can put kids at risk of many health complications, including high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, asthma, joint pain and fatty liver disease. Kids who carry excess weight may also be more likely to experience anxiety or depression and deal with low self-esteem. They may also deal with social problems like bullying.
While many factors can contribute to obesity and possible solutions, one effective and fun way to combat childhood obesity is with a community playground. Playgrounds encourage physical exercise and many other positive behaviors that contribute to kids’ health and wellness. A playground can help kids in your community embrace a healthy lifestyle.
How Do Playgrounds Fight Childhood Obesity?
Research shows a positive association between access to green space, including public parks and playgrounds, and physical activity and healthy weight among children. In other words, playgrounds and obesity have a negative correlation, where kids who live near playgrounds are less likely to become obese.
The link between fighting childhood obesity and access to parks and playgrounds is more complex than it may seem at first. Playgrounds and active play can combat obesity in several ways, each of which can help improve kids’ overall well-being. Let’s explore some of the ways playgrounds help kids ward off excess weight and the health problems accompanying this condition.
1. Encourage Social Skills and Friendship
Studies show that kids who have obesity deal with difficulties in peer relationships. For example, one study found that kids who were overweight were 1.7 times more likely to be disliked by peers compared to their thin classmates and were also a bit more likely to dislike their peers. A wealth of evidence also shows a connection between obesity and bullying. A study across 39 countries found that a student’s weight and their perceived weight and self-image could make them more at risk of being bullied.
While obesity can lead to some negative social outcomes, research is beginning to show a connection in the other direction, as well. A 2020 study found that when 11- and 12-year-olds demonstrated peer competence, they were more likely to have a lower body-mass index (BMI) z-score at 15 years old.
Whether you’re looking to help prevent childhood obesity or help kids with obesity who may be struggling with their peer relationships, playgrounds provide an ideal setting for social interactions. Kids can engage in group games and have conversations as they play near one another. All these interactions can help kids learn crucial social skills and develop friendships.
When friendships are founded on active play, this can be especially beneficial for helping kids avoid obesity. They’ll see time on the playground as their go-to activity rather than sedentary activities like video games. Kids can also benefit from the positive influence of peers who live healthy lifestyles. Seeing a friend eat a nutritious snack and challenge themselves physically on the playground can encourage a kid to adopt the same behaviors.
2. Promote Physical Activity
Physical activity can be an important way to burn calories and maintain a healthy weight. Unfortunately, kids’ lifestyles today typically don’t include enough exercise. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates only 25% of kids get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Factors like reductions in recess, increasing amounts of screen time, busier schedules and limited space at home can all contribute to a lack of physical activity.
While many kids across weight categories are not getting enough exercise, studies confirm that kids who are overweight or struggle with obesity usually have lower levels of physical activity than their peers in healthy weight categories. It’s easy to see, then, that boosting physical activity levels should be a top priority for kids struggling with their weight.
While other aspects of weight management — namely, eating a healthy, balanced diet — are also important, promoting more physical activity can be helpful approach for encouraging kids to maintain a healthy weight. For one, encouraging physical activity doesn’t need to hurt kids’ self-esteem as other interventions might. In fact, it can have the opposite effect since exercise can boost a person’s mood and self-confidence. Regular physical activity can improve critical thinking skills and memory for kids aged 6 to 13.
Physical activity is a healthy part of childhood, and there’s no better place to be physically active than on the playground. Especially for kids who live in apartments or houses with limited outdoor space, a public park nearby can be the perfect place for them to get some fresh air and exercise. When you have a playground in your community, you can be sure that families have access to opportunities for physical activity.
Unlike parks and other open spaces, playgrounds specifically allow kids to engage in different types of cardio and strengthening exercises. Climbers, slides, swings and other pieces of equipment engage different muscle groups, allowing kids to get a full-body workout.
3. Make Exercise Fun
There are plenty of ways kids can get exercise outside, but playgrounds do an outstanding job of engaging kids physically for longer and in more varied ways. That’s because playgrounds make exercise fun! Imagine the difference between encouraging a kid to do jumping jacks in the living room and bringing them to a playground where they can jump, climb, swing, slide and crawl — all in a fun environment designed just for them. Which activity is more likely to appeal to them?
Playgrounds are made for kids. Even a kid who may not ask to go to the playground is likely to start getting excited when they arrive and check out all the fun activities that are there at their fingertips. Soaring high in the sky on a swingset, balancing and climbing along an obstacle course or coasting down a curvy slide are all activities that are unmistakably fun and engaging for kids.
To encourage children to exercise, it is important for activities to be interesting. Companies such as Miracle® Recreation create innovative and thrilling play equipment that sparks imagination and builds competitive spirit. With a wide range of play equipment, kids have lots of ways to get fit, whether they prefer play with friends or solo activities. When children are really engaged in play, they may not even notice they are taking part in “fitness.” Instead, they’ll simply be having a great time and improving their health in the process.
4. Offer Active Entertainment and Combat Sedentary Lifestyles
One of the reasons inactivity has become so prevalent among today’s youth is because kids are opting to spend their free time on sedentary activities instead. Kids may choose to spend their time after school or on the weekends parked in front of the TV, for example, or scrolling through social media feeds on their phones. In fact, kids from the ages of 8-18 spend an average of 7.5 hours per day looking at a screen for entertainment.
Research shows that screen media exposure leads to increased risk of childhood obesity. For one, the more time kids spend on sedentary activities, the less time they’re spending being physically active. And that’s not all — kids may also be more likely to eat junk food or overeat during sedentary activities. One study even found that too much screen time makes kids far more likely to develop binge eating disorder (BED).
Since the amount of time spent on sedentary activities far outweigh that of previous generations, parents today may be at a loss for how to help their kids spend less time staring at a screen and munching on snacks and more time being physically active. The answer for many families is time on the playground. Playspaces combat sedentary and less healthy activities by offering a fun and engaging alternative. When kids discover the joy of active play, they’ll come to crave this form of entertainment more and more.
Active play can also provide great opportunities for talking to kids about nutrition. For example, you can explain how different foods provide different types and levels of fuel. If they want to get strong enough to make it across the monkey bars, some protein may be in order rather than a bag of chips or candy. Overeating is less likely to be an issue on the playground since kids will be too caught up in the fun of active play.
5. Help Kids Discover Their Passions and Be Themselves
The playground can also be a great place for kids to be themselves. On the playground, kids can engage in many types of play. Through solo play and group play, physical play and pretend play, kids can try different types of activities on for size and discover what they love.
For example, it may be on the playground that a kid first discovers their love for shooting hoops, motivating them to join the basketball team and stay active all through their school years. Or, they may realize they have a talent for balance that motivates them to get involved in activities like dance, ice skating or martial arts. Even when kids get all their physical activity on the playground without getting involved in sports, they can still gain a stronger sense of self on the playground.
Getting kids to use their bodies in varied and fun ways can help them learn more about themselves. It can also instill a lifelong love of physical activity that keeps them coming back to the playground for more active play. This continued physical activity can help kids maintain a healthy weight and a happier lifestyle.
6. Increase Confidence and Minimize Competition
Kids who are obese may struggle with their body image and suffer from low self-esteem. Feeling self-conscious about their bodies and abilities can prevent some kids from engaging in competitive sports and games, which adds to the cycle of inactivity and obesity.
Compared to competitive sports, active play on the playground allows kids to build physical skills in an environment that welcomes everyone with a much lower level of pressure to perform.
Even kids who may be uncomfortable joining in group play get the option to play alone on the playground or park and get the exercise they need. They don’t have to worry about how they’ll stack up next to their peers. Instead, they can go at their own pace and choose activities that challenge them without pushing them too far.
Making physical activity more inviting and accessible for all kids can help kids maintain a healthy weight and increase their confidence, too. In fact, play comes with a whole host of mental health benefits for kids. They can leave the playground feeling like their best selves and feel more optimistic about life and more motivated to achieve their goals.
How Can You Build a Playground That Encourages Kids to Be More Active?
If you want your playground to help fight childhood obesity and encourage kids to get plenty of exercise, make sure you:
- Include a variety of equipment: If you want kids to be able to exercise in a variety of ways, you need to provide many types of equipment and activities to fill their time. Variety also allows kids to find activities that are well suited to their abilities. Maybe they’re not ready to scale the big climber. In that case, maybe the steps up to the slide are a great place to start.
- Add fitness equipment: In addition to traditional playground equipment, you can also install equipment that’s designed for youth fitness specifically. For example, this could include a balance beam or pull-up bar for kids to do hip twists and other exercises. These pieces of equipment can help kids get a real workout on the playground, all while having fun.
- Ensure the playground is accessible: You also want to make sure all kids can access the playground, whether they have a physical impairment, a cognitive disability or any other unique needs. Featuring inclusive playground equipment and accessible pathways to get to the equipment can make the playground space inviting and usable for all.
- Make the playground as engaging as possible: Overall, you want the playground to be exciting. Even though having a playground in the community is great, it may fall short of the positive impact you’re after if it’s a space that only appeals to a certain age group or gets dull quickly from lack of variety. An engaging playground can encourage kids to stay active and make playtime more fun.
Learn How to Build Playgrounds That Get Kids Moving
If you really want to get kids active on the playground so they can enjoy healthier lifestyles, you need to create a play environment that is thrilling and keeps kids engaged. That’s where Miracle Recreation can help. We create stunning playgrounds for communities, parks, schools and more. Our play equipment is designed to be unique, innovative and exciting, so kids can’t wait to try it out. It’s also quality-made, so it’s an investment in future generations, too.
Locate your nearest Miracle Recreation representative to talk about how we can help you get kids excited about fitness and staying healthy.