Why Kids in Child Care Are Not Physically Active

Three-fourths of U.S. preschool-aged children are in child care, and most of their day is spent in sedentary activities. To explore why children are not more physically active in child care centers, researchers held a series of focus groups with 49 child care providers from 34 centers in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In the study, “Societal Values and Policies May Curtail Preschool Children’s Physical Activity in Child Care Centers,” published in the February 2012 Pediatrics (published online Jan. 4), researchers identified three main barriers to children’s physical activity: injury concerns, financial restraints, and a focus on academic programming. In response to stricter licensing codes, playgrounds have become less physically challenging and interesting to children, study authors found, and some parents have asked staff to restrict their children’s physical activity to reduce their risk of injury.

The small operating margins of most child care centers limit their ability to install abundant playground equipment. And child care providers felt pressure from state mandates and from parents to focus on academics at the expense of gross motor play. Given that time in child care may be the only opportunity for outdoor play for many children, study authors conclude child advocates must think holistically about potential unintended consequences of policies intended to protect children’s safety and learning.

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