Across the U.S., students have been starting the new school year, which means many parents may be concerned about their children's health as they return to the classroom. That's because not only do schools tend to be germ-riddled places, but studies have shown that children spend less time being active outdoors during the school year than they do in the summer, which may increase their risk of becoming overweight.
Furthermore, the start of the school year also means more buses on the road and that parents need to drive more, which poses a danger to the environment. Recently, The Huffington Post published an article by Jackie Ostfeld, mission outdoors policy and operations manager for the Sierra Club, who offered suggestions for how parents can keep their kids active during the school year, while also working to protect the environment.
Why stay outdoors?
According to Ostfeld, studies have shown that kids who play outdoors and participate in programs where they learn more about nature experience improvements in their health and academic performance. Unfortunately, kids are not as prone to spending time outside as they were in past decades.
"In the 1960s, nearly half of all kids walked or biked to school – now, that number hovers around 13 percent. Budget cuts are resulting in cancelled school field trips for many classrooms. But, perhaps even more unbelievable is that up to 40 percent of schools in the U.S. are cutting back on recess," wrote Ostfeld for the news source.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of U.S. children have an unhealthy weight. That figure is triple what it was just one generation ago.
What can be done?
Ostfeld recommended that if parents have the time, they should walk their kids to or from school each day. This will help they get exercise, and reduce the amount of driving that needs to be done. Parents can also start a Safe Route to School program in their community, where people work together to develop safe ways for children to walk or bike to school in their area.
Also, parents may want to consider joining the Parent Teacher Association at their child's school, so they can argue against budget cuts that will affect field trips, recess and gym classes.
The Mayo Clinic adds that one of the best ways to encourage kids to be active is to set a good example. Parents should express an interest in fitness and encourage their children to do the same.