We were heartened, in the days after Christmas, to see so many youngsters testing their new bikes on neighborhood sidewalks and in area parks. It was a welcome sign in a society that’s become too sedentary for today’s youth, with TV, online viewing and video gaming fostering a generation of couch potatoes.
Now that the holidays are over and January is in full swing, we hope those new bikes from Christmas continue to get some regular use. The benefits are obvious given Louisiana’s high rates of obesity, a problem that affects our youngest residents, too.
According to the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, one in three Louisiana children is obese. Poor nutrition is a big factor, of course, but lack of exercise is the other big culprit.
In a position paper on the subject, Pennington researchers pointed out that kids between ages 1 to 3 should have at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity each day, and children between 3 and 5 should have at least an hour of such activity each day.
Day care centers and schools are a great place to advance that goal, although exercise at home is important, too.
Sadly, many Louisiana youngsters don’t have safe outdoor play spaces where they live. Only 62 percent of children have access to sidewalks or walking paths, and 65.5 percent of children have parks or playgrounds in their neighborhoods, according to one recent study.
The implications of that problem are clear. Kids who don’t exercise have a much higher risk of diabetes, heart problems and other health challenges down the road. That’s not something that Louisiana, already challenged by higher-than-average rates for such chronic illnesses, can afford.
Leaders in state and local government have a role to play in expanding access to play spaces for children and encouraging them to exercise. But the biggest responsibility for getting youngsters off the couch rests with parents and guardians.
Obviously, the best way to teach children the value of exercise is to lead by example. With any luck, all those New Year’s resolutions that adults made this month to exercise more will have a beneficial effect on the young ones as well.
If we want Louisiana children to keep using the bikes of yuletide, then we’ll probably have to turn off the TV, go outside and do a little pedaling ourselves.