Wild at heart: McMaster expert says kids need more unstructured outdoor play

Playground

"Studies show that when children are allowed to take risks and have this so-called 'independent mobility' and less supervision, then they’re actually more active," says McMaster researcher Brian Timmons.


Kids need to be allowed more free play outdoors, says McMaster researcher Brian Timmons.

Timmons’ commentary is in response to the 2015 national report card giving Canadian kids a D- for sedentary behaviours and overall physical activity.

The report card, along with a position statement on active outdoor play, was released today by ParticipACTION, a national non-profit organization to promote healthy living and physical fitness. The report finds that access to active play in nature and outdoors – with its risks – is essential for healthy child development.

“The research is pretty clear that when kids are outside they’re more active,” says Timmons, associate professor of pediatrics for the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and McMaster Children’s Hospital.

He’s a member of the committee that graded the evidence on which the report card is based.

“Studies show that when children are allowed to take risks and have this so-called ‘independent mobility’ and less supervision, then they’re actually more active. So, there are probably parental barriers that can be removed, and we suspect that the result will be kids who are more likely to engage and build the confidence they need to be more active,” says Timmons.

“It’s likely that while kids participate in sports and other structured activities, that’s not enough to allow them to accumulate the necessary minutes of active play that they need every day.”

Despite common knowledge that Canadian kids need to sit less and move more, child and youth physical activity levels remain alarmingly low, with only nine per cent of five- to 17-year-olds meeting the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines of 60 minutes per day of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity.

The ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth is a comprehensive assessment of child and youth physical activity in Canada.

The 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card Highlight Report, including the position statement and the entire 58-page report, may be found online.