Activity and Awareness Month

Speaking of awareness, it seems to have been about a decade since observant grownups began to notice a significant connection between the child obesity epidemic and the fact that modern kids spend a lot less time outdoors than previous generations. One study found that among children age 9 to 13, only 6% of them usually played outside unsupervised, and others found similar conditions.

Lenore Skenazy published Free-Range Kids, defining this fear of the outside world as the simplest reason for childhood obesity in America. Canada is no better, with kids being driven to school rather than biking or — gasp! — walking.

The government recommends an hour of physical activity per day, and helpful professionals remind parents that the 60 minutes don’t have to be contiguous. One writer suggests,

Plan a day every week for the family to do yard work together. You can burn almost 350 calories in one hour using a push mower to mow your lawn and a half hour of raking leaves burns almost 175 calories.

Of course, not every family is lucky enough to have a yard, which precludes that idea and some others, like building a treehouse or fort. Other possibilities are to walk or bike around the neighborhood, play basketball or Frisbee golf at a park, fly kites, and join a sports or activity club.

Plan an active excursion for every weekend; or for at least once a week, depending on how parents’ schedules are laid out. For holidays, when everyone is free, don’t just sit around a barbecue pit. Turning over hot dogs and chicken legs with a long fork does not count as activity, and neither does watching the chef apply barbecue sauce. Do something active.

There are some truths it is impossible to repeat too often. They arrive formulated in different words, as expressed by the many health professionals who say them. This is registered dietitian nutritionist Carrie Dennett:

Research suggests that if you want your kids to be more active, what you do is more important than what you say, in part because encouragement to be active can be perceived as nagging, especially if you yourself are not active.

Yes, the most important precept, as always, is to teach by example. Lenore Skenazy (of Free-Range Kids fame) tells a story:

I just heard from a mom who’d been arrested for letting her child, 6, walk with another child, 7, to the park in Washington, D.C. They’d been gone from the house 12 minutes when a stranger saw them and called the cops…

The cops took the kids home by cruiser and charged the parents with a felony, later knocked down to a misdemeanor, for letting them go outside unsupervised. The charge now reads “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”

Yes, walking around with a friend is now delinquency. And letting your kid walk is a crime.

So, aside from setting a good example, this is another great reason for parents to get out there and do active things with their kids — to avoid arrest.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Skenazy: Childhood obesity and constant supervision by adults,” 06/14/14
Source: “Big Kids: 10 Things Parents Can Do to Fight Childhood Obesity,”
Source: “What to say (or not to say) to your overweight child,”, 09/13/16
Photo credit: Brisbane City Council on Visualhunt/CC BY

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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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