Children's Health

Many little kids lack outdoor time with parents

Half of preschoolers don't spend time playing outside with a parent each day, according to results from a recent survey.

In interviews with parents of close to 9,000 kids, less than half of moms and only a quarter of dads reported taking their child for a walk or playing with them in the yard or park at least once a day.

"It does make sense that for many parents, especially for parents who work outside the home... it's not so easy to have outdoor playtime with your children every day," said Dr. Pooja Tandon, a pediatrician at the University of Washington in Seattle, who worked on the new study.

Still, she added, outdoor play has been tied to a host of benefits for young kids -- who may not always be getting outdoor time in childcare or at preschool, as some parents assume.

Guidelines from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education suggest that kids get at least an hour of physical activity per day for long-term health benefits, like helping to ward off childhood obesity. Preschoolers should also get a few hours of unstructured playtime each day, according to the recommendations.

For the new study, Tandon and her colleagues used data from a nationally-representative study of U.S. kids born in 2001.

Along with other information collected starting when the children were infants, researchers asked parents of preschool-aged youngsters how often they'd taken their kid outside to play in the last month.

Forty-four percent of moms and 24 percent of dads said they had parent-child outdoor playtime each day. According to the interviews, half of kids got to go outside to play at least once daily with either mom or dad.

Neighborhood safety didn't seem to be an important deterrent to going outside -- more than nine out of ten parents said they felt their neighborhood was safe.

Girls and non-white kids were less likely to go outside with a parent, as were kids whose moms spent more time working outside the home.

Tandon and her colleagues did find that kids with a few regular playmates were more likely to get daily time outside, according to findings they published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

That could be because parents take turns bringing a few kids to the park at a time, Tandon said -- a good strategy for time-pressed parents with friends who live nearby.

Tami Benham Deal, who studies kids' physical activity at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, said it's also important to consider what type of exercise youngsters are getting when they do go outside.

"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," Benham Deal, who wasn't involved in the new research, told Reuters Health.

Tandon recommended moms and dads talk to any other adults who take care of their children, such as preschool teachers, to emphasize the importance of active, outdoor play.

And they can come up with creative solutions for ways to get outdoor time in when they're home with their kid, including brainstorming active options for bad-weather days.

"Parents try to balance and juggle lots of different priorities as to what we do with our children when we are spending time with them," Tandon told Reuters Health. "We may be able to make some choices to allow us to choose to do an outdoor activity when we do have the time."

"Parents encouraging their children to be physically active and parents recognizing the importance of and valuing physical activity are really key factors that influence kids' physical activity," said Benham Deal. "That's true across the age spectrum."