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Children's health

Children must get more playtime outdoors or face health crisis, scientists warn

Tuesday, August 08, 2006 by: NewsTarget
Tags: children's health, physical activity, playtime

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(NewsTarget) Professor Lamine Mahdjoubi reported to attendees at a University of the West of England conference that a lack of outdoor play has made children "physical and mental illness time bombs."

"Young people now face heart problems, diabetes and other diseases because of their sedentary lifestyles," Mahdjoubi said. "This puts them at risk of premature death and confronts the (British National Health Service) with a rocketing bill."

The announcement comes after a recent York University study that ranked the wellbeing of British children 21st out of 25 nations in the European Union.

Some of the blame, experts say, can be traced to a lack of suitable outdoor spaces for children and decreased government spending on such areas.

Marie Forsyth of the parents' group To Play or Not to Play said, "The streets are unrecognizable from our youth. Now, they are full of traffic, and play spaces are desolate and scarred by drug taking." While indoor spaces such as sports recreation centers are still an option, experts told the conference that open spaces were of more benefit, and were more cost-effective.

Professor Dick Jackson -- who advises President Bush on the correlation between health and the civic environment -- noted that the UK was catching up with the United States in terms of childhood obesity, and said that poorly designed neighborhoods could directly impact levels of mental illness.

Mahdjoubi reported that local authorities reduced their spending on urban parks and open spaces from 44 percent in 1976 and 1977 to 31 percent by 1998 to1999. "As councils cut their spending on outdoor spaces and society encourages physical idleness, obesity is becoming an epidemic," Mahdjoubi said. "This is a subject that affects us all. The cost of obesity will have to be met ultimately by society. It is a time bomb waiting to go off, like climate change," he added.

Comments from a spokesperson for The Department for Culture, Media and Sport -- which is responsible for the British government's "play policy" -- suggest that change may be coming.

"Government recognizes that play is of fundamental importance to children and young people's health, well-being and learning," he said. "For this reason, there are many initiatives to help promote outside activities for children in a safe and welcoming environment.

"The protection of existing children's play spaces, which are an important part of local communities, is also the focus of a national planning policy framework lead by the Department for Communities and Local Governments."


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