A study published Online First by Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, a JAMA Network publication reveals that approximately half of preschool-aged children are not being taken outside to play each day.

Clinicians are advised by the American Academy of Pediatrics to promote a healthy and active lifestyle, which includes encouraging children to play outdoors frequently. According to the researchers, children participate in physical activities by playing, and playing outdoors may be beneficial for mental health, vitamin D levels, motor development, vision, and cognition.

Using nationally representative data of 8,950 children from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort, Pooja S. Tandon, M.D., M.P.H., and colleagues from the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and University of Washington decided to establish in parent’s self-reports, how many parent-supervised outdoor physical activities children had. The sample used represented about 4 million children in total. They also decided to find out which preschoolers had the highest risk of less frequent parent-supervised outdoor time.

The authors explained:

“On average, we found that about half of preschool children in this nationally representative sample are not being taken outside to play daily by either of their parents.

For children who do not have a regular child care arrangement besides their parents (and therefore, likely do not have other structured venues or care providers to take them outside on a regular basis), 42 percent did not go outside daily.”

They found that 51% of children went outside to walk or play at least one time per day with either parent, while 58% of children who were not in child care went outside on a daily basis.

No significant connection was found between the mother’s marital status, child’s television viewing, parent perceptions of neighborhood safety, or household income with the frequency of outdoor play.

The researchers found that being a boy, having physically active parents and more regular playmates were linked to going outdoors at least one time per day.

Asian, black, and Hispanic mothers were less likely to take their children outside on a daily basis than white mothers (49%, 41%, and 20% respectively).

The investigators conclude:

“Our results highlight the considerable room for improvement in parent-supervised outdoor play opportunities for preschool-aged children, which could have numerous benefits for young children’s physical health and development. In particular, efforts are needed to increase active outdoor play in children who are girls and nonwhite.”

Written by Grace Rattue