• Outdoors Outdoors

Charities warn of 'crisis' affecting children that policymakers are ignoring: 'Rampant health inequalities can no longer be ignored'

"Paediatricians cannot be any clearer on this point."

"Paediatricians cannot be any clearer on this point."

Photo Credit: iStock

"Go play outside" used to be a common refrain from parents to their children, and the children would happily go. For kids in the United Kingdom today, however, the times are changing, as charities have warned that kids are suffering major adverse effects to their health and well-being because of a lack of outdoor play. 

What's happening? 

The Guardian reported that outdoor play is lacking because policymakers refuse to prioritize the need for it, even though the charities said evidence showed the physical and mental health of children and young people was in serious, long-term decline. Some evidence further showed that girls spend less time outdoors than boys. 

It has been proved that the increasing amount of time children spend indoors, the amount of screen time they typically have, and their lack of contact with the natural world all lead to poor developmental and health outcomes.

A government-funded survey in England even suggests that children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates, and The Guardian reported that the lack of outdoor time is significantly worse in areas of poverty.

"Compared to previous generations, children's lives have become incredibly restricted, indoors, isolated and inactive, largely due to changes in the outdoor environment," said Alice Ferguson of Playing Out, one of the charities advocating for the children.  

Why is it concerning? 

"Paediatricians cannot be any clearer on this point," the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said in a report last year. "Child health is in crisis and rampant health inequalities can no longer be ignored."

The coalition of charities said that kids want to be active outside, playing with friends and walking and biking to school, but they face too many barriers. One barrier is that the people who could change this don't see it as a priority. 

"Government policy has not addressed some of the root causes of this — and in some cases has added to the problem. A child-focused built environment policy could transform children's lives, health and wellbeing … effective low cost policies could be enacted almost immediately," the charities said in a statement.

They cite traffic-heavy neighborhoods, poor housing layouts, and a lack of parks and green spaces as some of the main barriers.

This is especially upsetting considering that walking, biking, and access to green spaces have all been shown to benefit health — even adding years to our lives. 

One study revealed that children with access to green spaces had better bone density, whereas riding on diesel-powered school buses has been shown to harm health and decrease academic performance

What's being done to help? 

"Government could reverse this trend and hugely improve children's health and wellbeing by making streets safer and neighbourhoods more child-friendly, enabling them to get outside and play every day," Ferguson told The Guardian. 

The charities said that other countries, including Germany, Norway, and Sweden, have national policies or guidance to ensure cities are more child-friendly. 

Some cities, including here in the United States, are making sure that riding bikes to school is a fun and safe option for kids. 

As individuals, we can vote for candidates who prioritize children's well-being.

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