Stan Voit: Kids: Get out of the house and be active!

Jun. 08, 2013 @ 11:59 PM

I’ve had to take a detour the last two weeks or so while repairs are made to Snapp Road. It has meant I drive through neighborhoods I usually don’t drive through. Funny thing I have noticed: There are no kids playing outside.

By no kids, I mean not one. I see an occasional mom pushing a baby buggy, but no children in the yard or riding bikes or otherwise engaged in play. I could drive 60 mph and not endanger anybody. I won’t do it, of course, but it is a strange thing to see — or not see— for someone who as a youngster spent after-school and summers in the outdoors.

I was no Daniel Boone. I watched TV and read, but most afternoons in fall the neighborhood kids played a pickup football game across two yards. I would ride my bicycle to the little league ballpark about a mile away for choose-up-sides games. For a time we played army and even dug foxholes in our backyard. Those foxholes stayed there throughout my childhood, until we moved when I was 13. Somebody probably filled them in my now.

I had a basketball goal in the yard and I used it all the time in winter and spring. I had one of those pitch-back netting things I could use to toss a ball and have the ball come back to me. I used a rubber ball to pitch against the front steps, hoping the ball would hit just right and come back to my glove. I had a whiffle ball and bat and, by dividing up my baseball cards, played a game in the backyard.

Sometimes I’d have to help out in my father’s store, which was about three or four miles away. I’d hop on my bike and pedal over.

It’s no surprise, really, that young Americans have become so obese and out of shape. The Centers for Disease Control says childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. The percentage of children aged 6–11 in the United States who are obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2010. The percentage of adolescents 12–19 who are obese increased from 5 percent to 18 percent over the same period. In 2010, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

I have to think it’s the sedentary lifestyle so many kids are living. They are camped out in front of the TV with PlayStation or X-Box in use. They are bused or driven to and from school. Most don’t own a bike. Walk? Can you imagine the outcry if they were forced to do that.

Parents say it’s because the world has become so scary. Some blame working parents who are not home after school and don’t want their children outside unattended or unsupervised. People don’t know their neighbors like they used to, and parents don’t want their children spending time in homes of people they don’t know well enough.

Those are understandable, legitimate concerns. But the solutions in use are creating a generation of overweight, listless, unimaginative and inactive kids who are facing big health problems early on if matters do not change.

I used to drive around on Christmas Day looking for children playing with their toys so we could get photos for the paper. Waste of time now. Kids want indoor play things like gaming systems and iPads and iPhones.

I sound like the grumpy old man with the weird hat who stands on the porch telling kids, “Keep out of my yard.” That’s not me. I just worry when I see kids getting fatter and neighborhoods devoid of noise and activity. Not a good combination.

These days parents have to drive kids to the park or to the swimming pool or the rec center or Boys & Girls Club to get them any physical activity. And you know what? I think kids like it. They enjoy being busy and active. It makes them feel good and less likely to become bored.

I am ready to do my part. Any kids in Mountain Meadows who are restless and tired of their Wii or PlayStation can come over to the house. I have weeds to pull up, rose bushes and hedges to trim and a basement that needs reorganizing. I’ll even toss the football with you.

I promise you’ll feel so good when you finish.

— Stan Voit is editor of The Mountain Press. His column appears each Sunday. He can be reached at 428-0748, ext. 217, or e-mail to Twitter: @stanvoit.