When There Is Nothing to Do but Eat

Little Rascals

Glenn Cook is an editorial writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and when he gets interested in a subject, that subject goes under the microscope for thorough examination. Recently, Cook got to thinking about the reasons for the childhood obesity epidemic. One of them is the parenting culture we seem to have adopted, which in some respects is as stiff and formal as the court etiquette under Louis XIV. For many kids, it’s all lessons and playdates, with every minute supervised, and with parents serving as chauffeurs. In “The obesity cure: free-range kids,” Cook observes,

Children don’t get outside because our current parenting culture prohibits unsupervised outdoor play. Today’s kids don’t have anywhere near the freedom that previous generations enjoyed. Instead of exploring our neighborhoods and rounding up friends for outdoor play — and getting a great workout in the process — our kids are contained until parents or other adults can plan activities and accompany them outside. Which, in the age of stressed, working parents, is infrequent at best.

There is no more “Little Rascals” neighborhood life, where kids just spontaneously get together and figure out stuff to do outside, in fresh air, burning calories and taking part in activities that don’t involve stuffing their faces. Cook collected experiences from his readers that only confirmed this conclusion.

They wrote about racketing around on bikes, romping with their dogs, exploring woods and fields, swinging on swings, playing pickup games of baseball or tossing a football around. Kids used to roller-skate up and down the block or play tag, or hide-and-seek. The current debate on whether exercise actually leads to fitness may or may not have validity, but one thing is certain: When you’re playing kickball, you’re not eating. Eating was something done in the house, at the table. There was no constant snacking or carrying around bottles of beverages.

I remember being outside constantly, even if only in the family backyard or the neighbor’s backyard. There was plenty to do — holes to dig, chestnuts to pick up and break free from their spiny green shells, rocks to pile up into castles. In the winter, there were snow forts to build and dirty, crusted-over mountains of plowed snow to scale. We stayed out till suppertime, and then went back out again and stayed until dark, and only very reluctantly ascended the apartment stairs to get ready for bed.

And getting to school? We walked. I walked to and from grade school, junior high, and high school. In my entire high school of 1,000 students, there was one (!) boy who had owned a car. On weekends and vacations, I walked all over town — just because there was nothing to do at home.

Now, you can travel the length and breadth of a residential neighborhood without seeing a single human being for miles. It’s like the aftermath of the neutron bomb explosion, the one that only wipes out people and leaves the buildings standing. Parents are terrified by the idea of child abductions and scared witless by media reports, ignoring the fact that most missing children are removed not by strangers but by the non-custodial parents.

Cook notes that no government programs or tax hikes were needed to encourage children to be active in the old days. We just got out there and did it. But he doesn’t abandon the subject there. A parent himself, he noticed that school playgrounds and ball fields are now fenced in and locked up. School districts and municipalities are so scared of being sued, they don’t let kids use playground equipment during off-hours, so all that expensive stuff that cost so many tax dollars is sitting there unused most of the time. Our litigation-happy society is partly responsible for the childhood obesity epidemic.

In Chapter 13 of Overweight: What Kids Say, the “boredom vicious cycle” is one of the many vicious cycles described by Dr. Pretlow, building on information collected from thousands of young people in distress. What they call boredom is actually the result of detachment, a strategy they resort to in order to escape stress, sadness, or the painful reality of problems:

But detachment itself tends to be unpleasant, as there is no excitement or joy… Kids say they use food to cope with boredom. They may thus become more overweight, which renders their life more painful, more detachment to escape, more boredom, more overeating, and so on.

We need to help these kids find other ways of coping with life’s problems, and to tell the difference between the general malaise that comes from being nervous, upset, or “bored,” and genuine hunger. There’s something desperately wrong when a 280-pound 12-year-old writes, “I only eat when I am bored or depressed which is all the time,” and then follows it up with “LOL.” This is no laughing matter.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The obesity cure: free-range kids,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, 07/11/10
Source: “Overweight: What Kids Say,” Amazon.com
Image of The Little Rascals/Our Gang is used under Fair Use: Reporting.

98 Responses

  1. So true! I have thought about this often times, about how we all played outside, used our imaginations (instead of letting computer games do the imagining for us, well, most of the time) and ran up and down the neighborhood when mom would say “Get OUT and play!” Because God knows, she needed a break from us! We all grew up fine, minus a few cuts bruises & stitches which just taught us, “be careful or life hurts”.
    I wonder if there were just as many kidnappings back then, they just weren’t all over the news like they are now? Maybe neighborhood moms could ban together and take turns being nearby while kids play together. You just don’t see “play” anymore.

  2. That’s a sad picture you painted up there but it sure must be the reality. I remember my childhood. There were 6 boys(neighbours) and I the eldest was the girl. Oh the fun I’ve had playing cricket in the church next door and cause both my parents worked… till about 7 when it was my mom’s time to come home we’d all play all kinds of games …then I’d quickly have a wash and sit down pretending that I had been studying all evening.
    And even here in India it is the same story where moms are just carting their kids from one class to another just to keep them busy. I myself have benefited from that as I run a storytelling class at my home and have kids come to me from 2 and stay on till they were 12 and I literally had to boot them out of my class.
    They say everything comes a full circle so maybe there are better days ahead though I cannot see that happening with the computer around.

  3. This saddens me, and I know it’s true. Every time I see a young child who is very overweight, my heart breaks for them.

    I let my kids out to play unsupervised now that they are older (5, 7 and 8.5), but for a while, they were too little to do that. But they are limited to a certain amount of places to play for now. The youngest is still rather young for long expeditions.

    We go on walks or bike rides as a family to make up the difference, though. Though even that is fairly restricted to our subdivision because there’s a few areas we can’t go because of missing sidewalks on the busy streets around here. We want to move to a more secluded, natural area because there aren’t ways to get out to the woods except by car. It’s a sad reality as more housing developments are eating up the wooded areas.

    But at scho0l, they’ve taken away daily gym for the kids. Now they have it once or twice a week at best, not every day like they used to, and use the other days for art, music and computers. Which is all right I guess, but not at the expense of gym. For some kids, that’s all the exercise they get for the week.

    Congrats on making Freshly pressed.


  4. While this is an excellent post and Cook’s quotes are spot on, mostly, there is still not a thing you, or he, can do that will change the fact that parents are going to put their children’s safety first.

    Secondly, not all children that are abducted are by the non-custodial parents and I’d go out on a limb to say that it’s probably more prevalent than we think that sex offenders are equate to a high number of those abductions.

    All of this being said, I am deeply saddened that my children don’t play outside, they don’t play in our backyard, there are no toys out there, there is no swing set, there is no sand box and it hurts me a lot. I feel like I’m robbing them of this because I cannot sit outside and watch them for hours on end while they play. Granted, my youngest is only 2 but my older one is 6 and I walk her down the ONE block to the bus stop. I don’t mind leaving her with friends and family members and such… my fear is that we live near a busy street corner and anyone could swoop by and put my 6 yr old into their car, never to be seen again except for on a sheet of paper in the window fronts of main street. Chances of this happening are slim but we have to do what we feel is right to protect our children. In response to the changing ways of parenting these days, schools are doing more physical activities in the school day than they were 15-20 years ago.

    I was a chunkier kid and struggled with my weight until I was in my 20’s when I realized that I didn’t feel pretty and my self esteem was the lowest it had ever been – but yet, I played outside and ran around ALL THE TIME…but yet still dealt with being overweight. There are obviously many other factors that need to be included here besides just playing outside. Portion control. Fat intake. Carbohydrate intake.

    I think that after reading this and reading my own response to this, it’s time to get them outside more often, unfortunately it’s starting to turn cold but at least I can put some plans in action, like fencing in our backyard and considering a swing set of some kind…

    1. The truth is that most kids these days are probably not at any greater risk of being snatched up by a stranger on a busy street than we were. Your kids are probably at a MUCH greater risk of death and dismemberment when driving in your car.


      Of course you fear your children being in harm’s way…the media and marketing do an effective job of peddling their wares based on that fear:


      But as a parent and a former nanny and an employer I know that people learn, grow, and build self-esteem through trial and error. Being allowed the appropriate freedoms and the ability to make mistakes, all people grow.

      We need to keep our children safe but we also need to let them fully experience the depth and breadth of life’s emotional landscape. They can’t do that alone in a fenced in backyard or in front of Baby Einstein all day long.

      1. Shoot…for that first link I meant to link here:


        The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says: “Crashes are the leading cause of death for children from 3 to 14 years old. ”

        Oddly, though many parents obsess about the extremely rare risk of stranger danger, those same parents happily plop their kids in the car and expose them to far greater dangers several times a day.

  5. Sad but true. All of the things that I used to do as a kid seem almost taboo now. And it seems as though most of the people who have kids these days let the media and society dictate how they should be raising their kids.
    Telling a parent how they should be raising a kid used to be a good way to get socked in the nose…(no matter what kind of an expert was doing it) but it seems like many parents these days are afraid of their own shadows. It is sad because whole generations will pay for it for years to come.

    1. Ahahahahaha so very true…
      Everyone seems to forget that because life doesn’t come with a guidebook, they shouldn’t expect one for child-rearing.

  6. This is the reason for the obesity epidemic! No wonder!

    ” We stayed out till suppertime, and then went back out again and stayed until dark, and only very reluctantly ascended the apartment stairs to get ready for bed.”
    This sentence is my life story from the age of seven to sixteen. Our mom had to scream out our names to get us to come in, and I remember how reluctant I was about it!

    I was born in San Francisco, and my group of friend never were bored! We would go to each others’ backyards to play, and when that wasn’t enough we’d walk the mile or so to the Golden Gate Park to play some more! There was only one fat child in my entire group of friends–it was rare to see fat children back in those days of the 70s.

    The times we live in are harming our children in so many ways. I was just thinking about the fact that some children are dealing with this boredom and disconnect by being really bad–burning down schools, destroying property, viciously beating each other, joining gangs and just becoming anti-social.
    It’s very sad.

  7. I’m 63. When I was growing up, I was outside all the time. Otherwise, I would have been inside, staring at the walls. And they weren’t even wallpapered. My parents didn’t own a car, so if I wanted to participate in an extracurricular activity, I had to walk. My three children were outside a lot, but not as much as I was, because by then, there were indoor diversions like the infancy of computer games. They played soccer and particpated in activities that my ex and I drove them to. Nowadays, I hear people say their kids spend most of the day inside on the computer or on their cell phones. “Playdates” are managed for younger children. I read somewhere that a child gets more intellectual and creative stimulation from playing in dirt than from computers. I have no idea if it’s true, but it sounds good. By the way, the Little Rascals were my gods back then.

  8. I recently had a similar experience regarding public parks, but it’s not only affecting kids.

    I’d joined a soccer meet up group on meetup.com. Once a week, we try to play soccer. We are adults.

    It’s getting tougher, unfortunately, to find a field where we can play — not because the fields are being used, though. We just can’t afford the permit and insurance that are required to show up at a public park to play soccer for two hours.

    I came by this post via freshly pressed.

  9. Excellent article – but there is a place where ‘free-range kids’ still exist – in Mayberry, Colorado! Here, our kids are let loose on the entire town (about 1500 people) and allowed to skateboard, ride their bikes, hit the swimming pool, etc. on their own. Most parents have the general rule that all kids must return home once they see the streetlight come on. I can’t imagine raising a child anywhere else. Actually, I wouldn’t even know how!

  10. An excellent article. I also think that we have now also become more of a two income home society (more out of need than necessity) in which there is little time for a home care giver (we use to call her mom) to provide families with healthy meals that included an adequate serving of fresh fruits and vegetables. Now because of our fast paced lifestyle, many parents are left to look for “quick meals” and much of our daily food intake is often “on the go”. And let’s not forget about the barrage of unhealthy snacks and junk food that are at a finger touch away from our cell phones, computers, and snack machines. When kids see it, they want it. And if it tastes good, they’ll keep coming back for more.

    Please feel free to add your comments and questions on my blog “Dr. Dar’s Weight Loss Advice” at

  11. Wow–what an insightful post. As a potentially future parent, I hope to eventually have great wisdom as far as how to handle this. I do want my kids to be as ‘free range’ as possible. That was one of my favorite parts of childhood: heading out, unsupervised, and swimming, playing ball with my friends, jumping rope, etc. But how to do that in the city, for example? That’s where we’ll be if we are able to stay here in Chicago. I’m not sure.
    I definitely agree about the negative effects of the snack culture. Kids are constantly carrying around juice bags, etc. that may not be that good for them anyway.

  12. I 100% agree! It’s so sad when parents are so afraid of everything that they don’t let their kids get out there to just experience life for themselves. Yes, they will scrape their knees. Yes, they will break bones. Unfortunately, there are other dangers as well – but you can’t live your life expecting the worst, or you will NEVER achieve the best.

  13. I, too, remember my childhood days spent outside every waking minute of the day and evening. When my kids want to be inside on the computer or watching T.V., I am constantly telling them about my childhood and all the things we did OUTSIDE. I took them on walks as often as I could when they were younger, and even now when I can coax them to go with me. They’re older teenagers now.

    My Internet went out two days ago (we just got it fixed this morning) so my son had no cable T.V. or Internet for two days. When I got home from work yesterday, there were two small piles of leaves on the front lawn. I asked him who put those leaves there. He told me he got “bored” and decided to go outside and rake the yard! I’m thinking of disconnecting the wireless router on a regular basis, or at least limiting the time it’s available and maybe I’ll see some more activity like that around my house. 🙂

  14. Parents are responsible up to a point. Even if they send them to school with a healthy lunch, the only thing they can’t control is the eating they don’t know about. The most important thing is getting exercise even just through playing. Honestly though, the main issue is what they eat and how much they eat. It’s so much cheaper to buy fast food and with single moms out there living pay check to pay check, this is about all they can afford.

  15. This post is so true of today’s society. This change is behaviour has happened relatively recently, or has been creping up slowly, but when I was a child (10 years ago..) I was outside all the time. My parents rarely had to persuade us. We did liv in the countryside though with no other houses for 1km around.
    Where I live in the Middle East it seems like 1 in 10 kids is overweight and some really so! Trust me, they are really big.

  16. I agree, and take it one step further. It’s true that kids don’t go outside enough, and they are not as active as kids were in the past. The point was made that parents are nervous about children getting abducted. That’s a very valid concern in this society! I certainly won’t let my younger children play outside unsupervised. But that doesn’t mean they are couch potatoes either. They participate in sports. They go camping and volunteer in the community.

    Video games and other technologies also contribute to the problem. When children spend hours each day with their eyes glued to a screen, be it television, computer, PS3, etc. of course their level of physical activity will be low, and their weight will go up.

    Parents: encourage your kids to play, run and have fun. But please, watch them and keep them safe!


  17. It’s interesting because I was a small child in the early nineties and I feel like that was the tail end of the “era of outdoor play”. I remember growing up running around the apartment community I grew up in, gathering friends to jump rope, play hopscotch, and swing on the strong willow tree switches that hung down low enough for our little grasping hands while our mothers all gathered at the apartment laundromat to wash our grass stained clothes. We used our imaginations and pretended a flooded field was the high sea and that the ducks lazily gliding through the water were sea monsters! It was the age of toys, like rollerblades and scooters, and we would be out playing until well after dusk… The only time we wouldn’t be reluctant to go back inside was when our mother’s brought home McDonald’s and ice cream for dinner. Oh how we loved the little toys that came with our kid’s meals! But then we grew older and no longer loved the toys, just the food. And suddenly home computers materialized and the rollerblades and scooters didn’t seem as cool in comparison. After this personal cellular phones came into popularity and suddenly we’re in an age where it is vital that our children have a cell phone and we ask ourselves, how did we ever live without these devices?

    Well, we used to play outside.

    1. I was a child like you in the nineties, and lived on a farm. Out of all the things I remeber doing when Iwas a child was done outside. I’m the youngest of four and I remeber doing things like making houses and shops out of trees along a creck and from this we had made three “towns”, we had bits of wood going across the creck at different points so that we could get to the other side of the creck and we would have a meeting place, incase we had to have a meeting of some sort, and whenever we had friends over we would go down to the creck and play games in our “town”. I also remeber going on “adventures” with one of my sisters and my brother, all done outside. We would go camping as well, once when we went camping we even went swiming in one of our drams. Every harvest I would always go with dad at lest once for a ride on the headder and one into the silos if not more. We also would have to help witht the sleep work which I don’t ever remeber taking less than an hour.

  18. I wasn’t allowed video games when I was a kid. I never had them, can’t play them….and don’t care! I had a skip-it, and my friend next door had three dogs and a trampoline (she was a godsend!) and we all went to the park as soon as we would get permission from our parents. Our parents would walk around the neighbourhood with us while we went trick-or-treating for hours on Halloween – NOT drive us around from house to house, or drive behind us setting a bad example!
    I had everything I needed as a kid, but didn’t get everything I wanted. I was spoiled with their attention and their devotion to me as my parents, not with millions of toys and a ridiculous allowance.
    i love this post! thank you!

  19. I totally understand your post. My parents always tell me crazy stories about them growing up. My Dad and his friends would spend hours making “toys” with branches from trees and my Mom and her siblings would go hike with their dog. Nobody came home until the sun went down. Now my parents are terrified whenever we don’t tell them where we are going after school. I guess times have changed.

  20. This is what I have been saying! I know I had a different childhood than the city kids, but all the town kids I knew owned bikes and used them.

    And Cheetos and fruit rollups were not a staple in our diets, they were a treat…that we maybe received once a year.

    Got that off my chest, now I think I’ll go out and play 🙂

  21. Wow. So true. Being obese since childhood, even though there was a safe neighborhood atmosphere, I “detached”. The children were cruel and bullied me, even with physical assault, causing me to stay inside, and eat. Which made the cycle spin. Even as an adult, though I have lost a bunch of weight, I still need to ask myself, “Julie, are you eating because of being upset, bored, tired….?” Though the eating habits have changed, drastically, my body was used to the cause and effect, the food made me “feel better:. I could go on and on, but that’s what I have a blog for, right? 😉

  22. There was a slide show portraying the increase of obesity in the US . It starts out that all of the states have low % of people suffering from obesity. But after a few year or so, a new color is assigned to states that surpasses a certain threshold of obesity. After a few years or so, there is another color. Then another and another and another. The number just continues climbing at an alarm rate. I think now with all kinds of television shows and games, no wonder why children like to stay inside now. I also agree with your observation that children don’t play outside these day anymore. Like in my neighborhood, there are lots of children but I don’t see them playing outside at all. Fat foods, televisions, and lack of exercising, I think health care costs will rise due to this obesity problem. Schools are trying to change their gym program from sport to fitness. This will help a bit, I hope.

  23. This country swings in extremes and always has. Twas a time when children (more so the poor) were undernourished, overworked and treated like scum.

    Nowadays, they are kept like calves in pens and thrown the cabinet and the fridge.

    Evolution requires a balance and many folks just don’t get it.

    Nevertheless, life can be pretty dangerous and it’s best for children to be watched, or at least fenced in.

  24. Great post. Although I played outside a lot as a kid, I did eat to counteract boredom as a teen. I also hid my behavior, and as one commenter wrote, “the only thing [parents] can’t control is the eating they don’t know about.”

    I think it’s a great practice to encourage your kids to eat healthy and play outside, but if you’re doing all that and they’re still heavy, you can’t shy away from trying to get to the bottom of that behavior. My parents never really addressed my eating with me, and I ended up bulimic and 55 pounds overweight before finding a Twelve Step program that helped me get things under control.

    To read more about my recovery from food addiction, as well as my husband’s recovery from bipolar, check out my blog: heather.whistler@hotmail.com

  25. Between the media scaring parents and video games making it almost impossible to drag a lot of kids outside , it’s no surprise that obesity has become the “norm.” Overstimulation has become a huge problem with kids today– there’s so much to do, so many things to play with inside, why go outside and use your imagination? Parents need to manage what their kids are doing. Limit video game time, give them healthy snacks instead of letting them grab a bag of chips out of the cupboard, and encourage them to play outside.

    How about creating a sort of neighborhood watch for the kids? Select a parent each day to supervise the kids outside. They don’t need organized activities, although giving them a few ideas for games to play might help. Hopefully most parents can set aside at least one day a week to make sure their kids are safe while they play outside. Everyone benefits, especially the kids.

  26. So right. As a pediatric dietitian treating children and their families I see this ALL THE TIME. Kids can’t got out until parents get home and the boredom eating is a HUGE problem. It is a vicious cycle and I like the way it was summed up in the quote. I just need to come up with a child-friendly way of explaining that. I talk about boredom eating all the time with my clients, it’s probably number one, even before more fruits and vegetables. I’ve had to overcome the boredom eating cycle myself – Intuitive Eating is a great book for adults on the subject.

  27. I know this must be true of many, many places, but I am happy to report that in our neighborhood, at least, kids free play after school until dark. I just passed six boys playing a pick-up game of football in my neighbor’s front yard as I was coming home in my car. I also saw two “packs” of girls riding scooters around the neighborhood. My kids are only 4 and 3, so no friends come ring our bell yet, but my kids go out and play in our backyard after dinner until I tell them to come in and take a bath before bed. Come to think of it, there wasn’t one obese kid in the scenes I just described…
    I must say, though, that we live in a subdivision where neighbors know each other and there really is no crime to speak of. There’s only one way in/out so you know the cars that “belong”. I know I would feel uneasy about sending my kids out to play (though our back yard is privacy fenced) if our neighborhood was sketchy at all. It’s a sad but real fact about our society these days.

  28. I remember being able to go outside as a kid, and stay out all day without my parents wondering where i was or worrying that someone might abduct me. Then again we didn’t have the high number of child molesters that we have now.

  29. I’m only 25 and I grew up walking to school, riding my bike all over the neighborhood and when I was older, all over town. I played outside a lot, walked to my friends’ houses, even played sports. Somehow, I was still a roly poly child, but I was a “big eater” as my grandmother used to say. So I was still chubby, but I was STRONG and I had stamina. Then junior high came along and I couldn’t walk to school any more (it was located several miles away) and I liked books too much to want to exert myself in sports. And while I’m not obese, I’m not slender either. But I’m still pretty strong. For a girl. 🙂 And I’ve still got decent stamina and a fast walk I can keep up for a long, long time.

    I agree with the eating from boredom, though. Maybe if we had scheduled snacks, like the British, and we only ate meals sitting down at a table with other people, we wouldn’t have such a problem with over eating as a nation. Because let’s face it, we’re not spending 5,000 calories a day plowing fields anymore. So we can’t justify 5,000 calories of McDonald’s every day.

    Also, locked and fenced in playgrounds are IDIOTIC. Half of my elementary school years were spent playing on and around the playground after hours with my friends who lived in the neighborhood. Sue-happy parents and fearful schools make for deprived (and apparently fat) kids. Lame.

  30. Great post, and it’s obvious that technological advances in entertaining ourselves has a lot to do with this epidemic of obese people in general.

    I can’t believe that children as young as 6 have cell phones and are texting, or are on the internet. (Although I can’t say much about that, I started using the internet when I was 9 or so.) However, the internet seemed like a different place back then. I rarely, if ever, came across something that you wouldn’t want your child to see. A cell phone, though, at such a young age? I didn’t get one for myself until I was 20.

    It’s like with cats, almost. I never had my cats declawed, and I let them go outside. They just go insane without doing what they were meant to do – which is hunt… outside. After my daughter is born and gets a little older, I will not “declaw” her, and I know it is in our nature to want to explore the outside, to not be inside walls. We were born in the outside as human beings, and that is where we need to be, or at least that is what we need to see.

  31. It is just amazing that kids can’t just “be”. They do so need to go outside and play and parents have to let them. The snacks have to be watched, and kept to a minimum. Children who say there is nothing to do but eat, should be watched and talked to, that is not “normal”. People should eat when they are hungry not all the time!


  32. Childhood obesity is subject most American moms and moms around the world should all take full blame along with our present day child psychologist and doctors that can’t say no to a child American children on more medication than most of the free world and are less likely to do any physical exercise without counseling. Most American children live in a world of video games and practices that call for no physical movement other than their fingers and eyes. Most are latchkey kids and have no supervision. Went home alone the computer or a videogame are their only friend along with junk food in the refrigerator.

  33. I agree with this. When I was a child, all day and all night would mean playing tag and hide-and-seek outside the house with all the other kids of my age. My younger brother, now, he didn’t experience much of that. He and his peers would go see each other to play computer games and eat. Not that I’m against computer games (I play too. Haha), but I guess he missed out on so many childhood things to do. And he’s fat too.

  34. I agree that kids don’t run around and burn energy the way kids did many years ago, but also some of the obesity is not their fault. It’s down to the food industry. Food is mass produced and filled with harmful additives so it is nutritionally deficient. This leaves them feeling hungrier than they would have been if they were eating good food. And so the weight piles on. It’s a vicious circle.

  35. I agree that kids don’t run around and burn energy the way kids did many years ago, but also some of the obesity is not their fault. It’s down to the food industry. Food is mass produced and filled with harmful additives so it is nutritionally deficient. This leaves them feeling hungrier than they would have been if they were eating good food. And so the weight piles on. It’s a vicious circle.

  36. Thats so true…I remember how we used to play in our childhood…running here and there…no matter what it was..used our imaginations to make senses of nothing….now a days the world has become computer savy….sit in front of that and do whatever u like and nothing else….no physical play and nothing….

  37. I have a fairly free range child, he spends time outside every day, but I know he’s unusual. They’re so much less stressed and so much happier if allowed to play out, and I think being able to structure some of their own time is much better preparation for being proper adults, than constant oversupervision.

  38. Idle, lazy and busy parents are reason of obesity trends in their next generations.
    Raising a kid is a natural phenomena but how it only depends on mental caliber of parents and conditions of surroundings.
    Transforming children into food worms force them to live like that and concept of physical movement start diminishing from their minds.So obesity itself lacks of such concepts of physical exertion and take kids mood only toward junk eating ,reading, sleeping, sitting like activities

  39. is life really more dangerous, kids are still more likely to be molested by a relation or close family friend, I have seen a child run into traffic to avoid an adult that asked the way to the shops, is that keeping them safe,
    I grew up in London in the 50’s, I loved Soho with the beautifully dressed ‘ queens’ who happily showed us how to wear our hair and make up to the best advantage, the pimps didn’t bother us if we wasn’t interested and the dealers never offered the kids drugs, or at least they didn’t offer them to me.
    the London parks had an ‘auntie’ ( and still do, at least last time I went) to ask unacompaned adults what they wanted, but we didn’t need an adult to take us, we lit a street bonfire every year over an unexploded bomb, and we made dens and played tag games there,
    but we were happy healthy and fell exausted into bed by nine in time to be refreshed for school in the morning, to which we usually walked on our own or with a group of friends that we collected on the way

  40. It’s true, you don’t need goverment programs or tax hikes to encourage children to be active. The reason today many children to prison themsleves on there computer is because they think there is more to do inside than out. And also to do with over-protective parents they fear too much that there child will be abducted, to my research it is more likely to be harmed by someone than be abducted. Too many health and safety rules. In fact i’m writing a book myself called “7h30ry 0f n00bs.” i am researching about overprotection of children and how it can affect there general knowledge of the world, news, and technology.

  41. An important piece of kids engaging in outdoor, “free-range” activity is parents (and other involved adults) confronting their anxieties and drive to control. I admit that I’m a pretty anxious, fearful person. I can see catastrophe in the most unlikely of circumstances, but that sort of mindset and the behavior that ensues is irrational and unhealthy. I don’t want my own anxiety to harm my future kids. Because really, they’re more likely to develop a complex because I’m too controlling than they are to get abducted from my backyard. Of course, horrible scenarios like that happen, but the nature of our media has also made us hypersensitive to such events.

    In my childhood, I clearly remember my grandmother regularly scolding my mom for allowing us to “run free.” However, we lived in a rural area, surrounded by our grandparents, 2 sets of aunts and uncles, and our family business. My mom knew that we were as safe running around there as we were anywhere else. And, very importantly, my parents taught us to make responsible decisions on our own. We didn’t need them looking over our shoulders all the time because we developed independence early. I only hope I can address my own anxieties so that I can give my kids the same gift.

    1. I am so with you here…as I posted above in reply to a parent:


      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says: “Crashes are the leading cause of death for children from 3 to 14 years old. ”

      Oddly, though, many parents obsess about the extremely rare risk of stranger danger, those same parents happily plop their kids in the car and expose them to far greater dangers several times a day.

  42. I love the article, I think it is very important for parents as well as the entire community to take charge and help our youth become fit mentally, physically, and emotionally. Change starts in your heart and mind. When we make a change in our thinking, we can change the world. I don’t believe in beng skinny, I believe in being healthy. We all have a body weight that fits our age and height that we should fall under, if we are over that then that is were the problem is.


  43. In Illinois, we did have the boogeyman come and kidnapped a 7 y.o. girl. He would rape and kill her. She was not his only victim during the early 80s. Brian Dugan is the very real monster who did this in rural and small town areas. I would guess that many of us remember what he did and would never want to let their child be alone ever again. Too bad, we are not getting out with our kids at the same time.

  44. You are so right with your observations. When I was a child, as soon as the sun broke over the horizon, I was outside playing. I was raised in a family of seven, a small ball team. We would have the neighborhood over to play baseball or football. We had a basketball hoop as well. Being raised on a farm meant that we had chores, something that is completely alien to many children these days. Now they insist on being paid or given an allowance for during ‘chores’. We did chores because it was required of being part of the family, period.

    We had no television when I grew up, even though other homes did. So we spent the summer roller skating, riding bikes, swimming in the pond, playing with trucks in the dirt, riding the calves, playing jacks on the porch, walking over a mile to the playground at the school (which wasn’t locked up), playing baseball, football, or basketball, and later horseback riding. During the school year, we walked to over a mile to our bus stop. When we got home, chores and homework were the priority. After that, we had hoola hoops, dolls, trucks in the dirt, and other things to do. We had a playroom filled with toys for bad weather days.

    One thing was certain, you ate and drank at the table. You didn’t eat while reading a book in the living room. You didn’t eat outside unless you were working the fields or having a picnic. And the only time you ate was at mealtimes. And mealtimes were a well balanced meal of meat, bread, potato, vegetable, milk, and a dessert. No soda was drank with the meal. In fact, soda was a treat. Maybe we would have it once or twice a month. Now I see babies with soda in their bottles!!!

    Parents have become too obsessed about their children. It is as if they had such poor childhoods that they don’t want their children to go through what they went through. I see parents driving their children to school on raining days. Do they not make umbrellas anymore? Is it too hard to hold the umbrella while texting to friends? Let the children walk. And quit demanding that buses pick them up at the front door! I once got behind a school bus that stopped at every block picking children up. That was unheard of when I was a child. In fact, our bus went past our house and we still had to walk over a mile to the bus stop!

    At any rate, obesity is a result of children not getting enough exercise. Part of it is the parents, but part of it is the child. Children, especially teens, can quit asking to be driven to school, can ask for healthier meals and choose healthier meals, can exercise. No one is stopping them. They choose not too, especially the teens. Poor habits can be broken if one chooses to do so. But coddling parents don’t help.

  45. This is a great piece. i would’ve never thought of child obesity as a result of disattachment. My family and students all just hang insdie these days. I remember the days of getting into trouble. Now they just find and box with an electric circuit and sit in front of it. GREAT BLOG AGAIN! THANK YOU.

  46. There is so much truth to this article. I’m a soccer coach and know for a fact that the only time kids exercise is when we have practice or a game. In today’s world unless something is structured they won’t participate.

    Our sedentary lifestyles has attributed to childhood obesity as well as oue desires for fast food.

    Computers, text messeging, msn, you name it, it has all prevented kids from getting out and connecting.

    Great article.

  47. Y’know, whole insurance thing reminds me of something I read about a while back, I think it was in AARP or AAA mag. Anyway, it was talking about how kids in middle and upperclass families don’t go outside, and diseases like rickets has been on the rise, due to fear of lawsuits. Yeah, the property manager’s of gated communities and highscale apartment complexes were putting curfews and restrictions on kids, such as anyone under 18 wasn’t allowed to walk around the premises without an escort.

    It’s ridiculous.

    And just to talk about fear of predators! Parents afraid? What about the kids! I was lucky enough to roam the streets, but the TV had me scared. So whenever a car was going slow, stopping, or just sitting there, I’d make a run for it. As far as I knew, everyone and everything was out to kill me, rape me, or eat me. Linda Ellerbee and her NICK NEWS show for kids…pfft.

    But yeah. It’s really sad. Growing up in the 90s we did used to just hang around the school yard on weekends playing on the playground, or wandering the nearby woods. Now it’s all locked up, just 15 years later…..

  48. My son (28 years old) and I were talking about this very subject the other day. He grew up on a 40 acre plot with the home right in the middle. He and his friends that would come over for the weekend would go out to play right after breakfast and I wouldn’t see them gain until it got near dark or they got hungry. They often took a lunch with them and canteens or drank from the creek, which was clean then. There were rules; always stay together, stay on familiar ground or mark your path (which they learned to do), or stay on the creek which led back to the house. When he was very young the rule was he had to be able to actually see the house at all times. Mt son never got lost until he was well into adulthood. He was hunting with his father on our property and strayed a bit to one way. No one missed him until a phone call came and he was many miles away! We always have a good laugh about it now that he’s an adult.

    You hit the nail on the head so to speak. I recently read “To Kill A Mockingbird” and it portrayed children growing up freely and learning life experiences that cannot be met in front of a computer.

    Congrats on the Freshly pressed!


  49. So much of the problem is fear. Parents’ fear of something terrible happening to our children, when in fact, that something is happening right under our noses.

  50. I read some statistic a while back that although parents are more fearful of letting their kids run free these days, that according to FBI crime stats the world is a much safer place than it used to be, comparing the 1990’s to the 1950s. My best guess is that because both parents work now, people do not get to know their neighbors and thus do not *feel* as safe as they used to, despite the statistics. I choose to live in a more economically distressed neighborhood where parents cannot afford daycare and after school care, and instead, get to know the neighbors so that we all know who we can trust. It’s worked out really well and made a very nice neighborhood. I’m proud that the neighbor kids have asked to borrow books for their homework, and their parents feel safe to let them run and play in the streets. (Not literally of course :-)) We don’t have any fat kids in this neighborhood but… I wonder if it’s because their parents can barely afford to feed them. I do what I can.

  51. It’s even worse here in Johannesburg but there is arguably more to fear. Though I want my kids to walk and play outside. I live near a great park and tennis court and would let my kids play there, but I would hover close by depending on their age. Your apt description of life without people is so true of lots of parts of Johannesburg where no one is out on the street which makes the chance of crime much higher if you are out there along. Again, where I live everyone walks around so Brixton feels much safer!

  52. well written and to the point. Yet unbearably true :(( I guess it’s up to us to raise our children in different way… but it’s nonetheless sad to walk past McDonalds to see mums and children having “yummy” lunch just because they are lazy to cook.

  53. Great post.
    It’s sad for the children, but I think it also makes parenting a much more difficult and consuming task:
    parents constantly have to keep their kids occupied, they become their entertainment source, they become their drivers and they become completely devoted to their kids plans and schedule.
    As for the children, obesity is not the only problem, children who are not allowed to go outside and don’t exhaust their energy by being active most of the day, start having attention problems, some of them are being labeled and are being drugged by parents, teachers and psychiatrists just because parents and teachers cannot deal with an over active child that doesn’t get enough exercise.
    I remember that as a child my mom didn’t have a car and I walked to my friends house and when I got there we often played outside. It’s sad that nowadays if we see a child walking around alone in the street we think he’s neglected.

  54. I feel the concern, truely, madly, deeply…and I say this with my chubby cherub aged 5 in mind. As a working single mom of 3 boys time is limited. They all attend school (hooray, exercise on the playground, I hope) and then a little swim in the pool at home – little else and yes, they are driven most places. What I find rather strange is that none of them have taken on my healthier eating habits?? The 2 older boys are weight fine but my little one – alas, I am at my tether end. I don’t make an issue every time he suggests a snack, instead I try to distract him with other things – but he doesn’t forget or give-in. Any suggestions? PS We don’t do take-out.

    1. Well, different things work with different kids, but I’d try to set aside time for this. Sit down with the child and a couple of small plates and a couple of knives you feel comfortable with a 5-year-old wielding, like plastic picnic knives. And a brownie or something like that. Put half of the brownie on each plate, and you each cut up your half into the tiniest possible pieces, and eat them as slow as possible. See how long each little tidbit can be made to last in your mouth. Make it fun. Have a conversation about something he likes to talk about.
      Another time, read him a story while he cuts up the treat into little bits, and see if he can make cutting and eating the pieces last until the end of the story.
      Why? Because one of the many hints that work for people is the Slow Down hint. The theory is, it gives the body a chance to catch up and signal the brain that you’ve had enough for now.
      Some kind of playful interlude like this won’t work a miracle, but it puts a new idea into the kid’s head, and a (friendly, playful) challenge to try a new behavior.

  55. Parents and family lifestyle as well. Thanks to the techno age, all exercising is at desk and gym only. What is really being missed is the fresh air, open fields and blue skies…of which very few places exist as such.At the least, the school authorities should enforce sports at a younger age. Yet all is in vain, if values are not enforced first at home.

  56. I appreciate your view point… much truth said here. Parents have a huge responsibility on their shoulders, one that cannot be ignored. Thanks for making light of the problem at hand… a step in the right direction.

    p.s. congrats for making “Freshly Pressed”

  57. I find cape Tonians to be especially health and body conscious. Compared to Johannesburg where I grew up, kids here have more freedom. I do know of some parents that are very strick with the way their children eat (even well into their teens) This is not the answer either. Children should be well educated when it comes to their bodies, health and eating issues.

  58. I didn’t like to eat when I was a child. I loved playing outdoors. When we had supper (some call the evening meal “dinner”), I was not allowed to go back outside to play until I cleaned my plate. That gave me motivation to eat because I wanted to get back outside to play! I was never overweight.

    When my children were growing up, we moved to a small town in NC so they could roam the neighborhood with their friends. They loved it. No obesity there either!

    My grandchildren though are another story. Their parents are so afraid of them being abducted that they will not allow them to go outside unless the parents are home. So, they spend all their time inside playing on computers or playstations/nintendos/etc. In the summer both parents work, so the children are locked in the house all summer. Then they don’t go outside and play when the parents come home. I don’t think they have any desire to play outside. “It’s too hot. There’s nothing to do out there.” I’m told the youngest is allergic to trees, grass, dogs, . . . all things he might encounter outside. The oldest eats and sleeps. She is a teenager, 5’5″ in height and weighs over 200 pounds. It is heart breaking.

    They do not know how to entertain themselves unless it is with electronics. When I was a kid I was very sick for two years and could not go outside and play. I played with boxes and made cars, houses, all kinds of things to entertain myself in the house! I would take the kitchen chairs, lay them down in such a way to create “rooms”, throw a blanket over my “house” and my brothers and I would play house in our home make of chairs and blankets. But we had imaginations which were challenged and not stunted by staring at computers, cell phones and video games.

    It makes me very sad to see that my grandchildren do not know any of the games we played outside when I was a child. I tried to teach them some of the games we used to play, and they said, “Oh, Grandma, you are so silly.” (sigh)

  59. Great post. When I was young, my brothers and I spent 90% of our day outside, playing basketball, exploring the pond across the street, biking to wherever. We had no supervision, and yet we survived. Today’s world is a little more dangerous, liability is always in mind, and the places to roam are shrinking with land development, and overpopulation. I predict a day in the distant future when the only open undeveloped spaces are ones that are legally protected, and you have to pay to get in. That will be a “field” trip for future generations, paying to see what’s left of the open meadows and woods.

  60. I’m glad that I was a “back in the day” child and didn’t have to worry about abductions as much. I remember playing outside until dusk. When I was over my grandmother’s house, we played well after dark, because she lived on a dead end street and everyone knew each other. So there would be large games of hide and seek, etc. Fun times!

    Also, many schools, in an effort to increase instructional time, have reduced gym time and/or eliminated recess altogether. This is sad as recreation time is a way to implement physical activity, and it’s a stress reducer as well.

    And, don’t get me started on the additives that are being allowed in our foods. They can’t be helping in the fight against obesity, either.

  61. I grew up in a “safe” residential neighborhood and played outside all day long… I have since grown, and I currently live in an urban neighborhood, where children play outside all day long. Ride bikes, play basketball and not afraid to walk to the corner store or local parks… in areas where grown ups might be fearful to go….it really is today’s media that has instilled in us so much fear to keep children content to stay in glued to the computer, tv and video games… Just tell you’re children to go outside for 15 minutes… and let them do whatever… work up to 30 minutes….and then an hour… while not peeking out the window every 2 minutes to make sure someone hasn’t stolen them…and I’m talking about the age of reason… not toddler age etc..you will find happy possibly a bit dirty children that need a bath, but it will be all worth it!

  62. I just had a look around your blog, and I really liked it. This is an issue that breaks my heart to see. This particular post brings an interesting point, but I think that obesity has more to do with letting your your kid eat too much than letting them outside. The author mentions that kids eat because they are bored. Maybe the kids would play if their parents would not let them eat every time they ask! Snacking out of meal time is a terrible habit that most adults too battle with! I recently wrote a post on this subject concerning where we live in Paris, France.

  63. It’s amazing how quickly things changed even in the last 20 years. In the late 80s, the indoor alternatives were bad morning game shows. It was nothing to spend the day riding bikes or playing ball.

  64. There is so much more to obesity and aenorexia in children than boredom or a change in times.

    Something that has always been prevalent, in some families, that does help eating disorders come into place , is abuse, domestic violence and child abuse.

    When a child lives with abuse, that child, usually , can not have a normal breakfast, lunch or dinner and or snacks in between.

    Usually the child from the abusive family or child victims of abuse, almost always develop some kind of eating problem , either obesity, or anorexia or bulemia or any host of other eating and social disorders.

    It is not as simple as boredom or

    this ‘day and age’ .

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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