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The Biggest Risk Is Keeping Kids Indoors

Participaction report card 2015This week, Participaction released the 2015 report card on activity in Canadian kids (a yearly exercise formerly undertaken by Healthy Active Kids), and its message is simple – send your kids outside to play!

This is how Participaction defines the protection paradox:

“We may be so focused on trying to intervene in our children’s lifestyles to make sure they’re healthy, safe and happy, that we are having the opposite effect….We overprotect kids to keep them safe, but keeping them close and keeping them indoors may set them up to be less resilient and more likely to develop chronic diseases in the long run.”

And it works best when you send the kids out alone – here is what research shows:

  • Grade 5 and 6 students who are often or always allowed to go out and explore unsupervised get 20% more heart- pumping activity than those who are always supervised.
  • 3- to 5-year-old kids are less likely to be active on playgrounds that are designed to be “safer,” because many kids equate less challenging with boring.
  • Children and youth are less likely to engage in higher levels of physical activity if a parent or supervising adult is present.

Safe is boring – who would have guessed?

And here’s even more research to support this idea:

  • Kids with ready access to unsupervised outdoor play have better-developed motor skills, social behaviour, independence and conflict resolution skills.
  • Adventure playgrounds and loose parts playgrounds, which support some exposure to “risky” elements, lead to an increase in physical activity and decrease in sedentary behaviours.

Simply stated:

“We need to consider the possibility that rules and regulations designed to prevent injuries and reduce perceived liability consequences have become excessive, to the extent that they actually limit rather than promote children’s physical activity and health. Adults need to get out of the way and let kids play.”

The full report card can be downloaded here.

Time to set your kids free!

Edmonton, AB


  1. In as much as doctors have declared obesity a chronic disease (something I have mixed feelings about), I think one of your past observations applies here. Health benefits and any affect on obesity is probably not as much about calories expended as it is about calories not taken in. When I was a kid, we were kicked out of the house to play with friends. This did NOT mean, as cultural mythology would hold, that we were continually playing kick the can. Much of the time we would climb a tree or drape ourselves over our bicycles or hide in “fort” or go to one of the neighborhood’s most wonderful basements or some such, and hang out to talk about life or play games of pretend. We weren’t all that much more active, but we weren’t bored. And so we also weren’t thinking about breaking our boredom with eating.

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    • Great point – would be a nice little study “Impact of outdoor free play on snack consumption” – perhaps someone will do it?

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    • While you were outside, you also probably didn’t have snacks with you, and you had probably never thought about whether you were properly hydrated.

      (Good to ‘see’ you, Debra. I was a regular reader of your blog.)

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      • Hey, Bobbini. I wouldn’t have known to find this comment but WordPress told me I’d had a spike in activity at the blog, so I went searching for the source. Might have been a fluke, or might have come from here. Anyway, good to “see” you too. Yeah, not only was I not worried about being “hydrated,” I wasn’t wearing New Balance 992s. I was wearing floppy old Keds or Converse sneakers. There were no warm ups or cool downs for exercise. When we did snack, it might have been the ice cream truck prompting us to go shake our folks down for change. Or maybe one of the neighborhood kids had pestered her parents into buying these awful pink frosted cake mound things. I think they were called “snowballs” or some such, but we called them elephant lips because you could peel back the frosting and it looked like an elephant’s lips to us. It was not an idyllic time of perfect health activities. It was a time of fewer snacks, but not in any case all healthy-shmelthy stuff. No hummus on carrots (no hummus at all). We resented apples as much as modern kids do, but ate them reluctantly, just as modern kids do, when the ice cream truck wasn’t around.

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  2. I would love to set my kids free. Know why I can’t? Unleashed dogs everywhere, including children’s playgrounds.

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  3. And god forbid kids fall off a tree or get injured in any other way during free play.

    The shame and blame that parents receive on a daily basis can be easily compared to a person living with obesity. The pressures of parenting today are enormous and not healthy, neither for children nor for parents.

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