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Then and now: Childrens' Recreation Over the Last 30 Years

Children's recreational activities and perceptions of the importance of them have evolved quite a bit over the past 30 years. As children spend more time indoors using high-tech devices and less time exercising, the childhood obesity rate continues to grow. It is important to understand the epidemic of childhood obesity when talking about recreation and exercise for children, for there is a direct link to the extreme importance of fitness for children. As childhood obesity can lead to a plethora of health, developmental, and school performance issues as well as increasing the risk of serious illnesses into adulthood, it is necessary to understand the importance of recreational activities and initiatives to keep our children healthy.

Over the past 30 years, childhood obesity has been on a steady rise in the United States as well as throughout the rest of the world. The obesity rate has more than doubled in children, and in adolescents, it has tripled. There are many factors that attribute to the rise of obesity. Genetics can be one of these factors. If a child's parents are obese or have obesity-related health issues, this increases the risk of the child being obese as well by as much as 80 percent. Studies have shown that non-Hispanic black children and Mexican-American children have a much higher rate of obesity as well. And economically disadvantaged youth have an increased rate of obesity, too, in part because the food available to them is usually of much lower nutritional value. The foods they consume are usually of higher sugar and fat content than what is recommended.

Many behavioral and environmental factors also contribute to childhood obesity. Children and youths ages 8 to 18 spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using cell phones, computers, televisions, and video games. The time spent using this technology has a great impact on a child's weight. The time spent using these devices means less time is devoted to physical activity. It also tends to correlate with less-healthy food choices. Studies have also shown that the increased use of electronics such as cell phones and tablets at early ages can result in developmental and social issues for children, as they are substituting these electronics for interactions with their parents and other children.

Throughout the 1980s and '90s, physical education and recreation were staples in schools throughout America, including regular physical education classes and recess for younger children. But in 2001, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, which many have contributed to the disappearance of physical activity and recreation time for children because of the increased focus on classroom time and test preparation. Many have criticized NCLB for putting a damper on children's physical development and well-being, as many studies have shown that increased classroom and study time does not necessarily correlate with increased test scores and information retention. Meanwhile, studies have shown that getting 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day is imperative to healthy mental, physical, and emotional development in youths. Many studies have been done that indicate that regular physical activity results in improved academic performance as well as improves a child's attitude and behavior.

In recent years, efforts have been made to refocus the nation's attention on the importance of physical activity for children. For instance, one of the nation's biggest sports associations, the NFL, has started the Play 60 campaign, which is designed to get kids, especially inner-city kids, involved with exercise, health, and wellness. This campaign stresses the importance of exercising for 60 minutes a day, especially if the need cannot be met while in school. First lady Michelle Obama started the Let's Move! program, which encourages health education and 60 minutes of physical activity a day. It also endeavors to teach parents how to create a healthy environment for their children and supports providing affordable healthy food and healthy school lunches.

Childhood Obesity

Technology and Health

The Effect of Physical Activity on Children's Well-Being

The No Child Left Behind Act

Health and Physical Activity Campaigns