June 12, 2009 / 4:05 PM / 10 years ago

Lack of outdoor play space forces children indoors

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Most American parents think their children do not spend enough time playing outdoors and many youngsters, particularly in poor areas, have no access to a community playground, according to a new U.S. survey.

Youths cool off with a spray at a playground at the Phyllis Wheatly Elementray School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, July 31, 2006. REUTERS/Allen Fredrickson

The Harris poll of 1,677 parents of two to 12 year olds showed that 92 percent say their children spend less time playing outside than they did when they were growing up.

Forty-one percent of parents said their youngsters did not have a community playground and nearly a quarter did not live within a five-minute walk of an outdoor play space.

“Not all children have access to public outdoor play space or facilities,” Harris said in a statement.

“Kids in rural areas are least likely to have access to a local park .. and kids in the lowest family income bracket, less than $50,000 a year, are least likely to have access to a community playground,” it added.

Lack of exercise, along with too much time in front of televisions and computer screens and fast food diets, have been blamed for the growing obesity rates among American children.

Health experts advise children to exercise more outdoors but eight in 10 parents said youngsters do not have enough opportunities to play outside, mainly because a park or playground is too far away.

Harris said children spend about eight hours each week playing indoors and an equal amount of time watching TV or movies, but only six hours playing outdoors. Many parents think it should be twice that amount.

“Parents report that their kids spend less than an hour per day engaged in unstructured play outdoors, on average,” said Harris, which conducted the poll commissioned by KaBOOM!, a non-profit organization that organizes community playing building projects.

Almost 90 percent of parents think outdoor activities are important for their child’s development and 96 percent think it is necessary to keep their offspring physically fit, according to the poll.

Parents said having more time, encouraging their children to spend time outdoors and more nearby facilities would help to increase the amount of time children play outside.

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