Physically Active kidsChildren should be active for at least 60 minutes each day, yet few children are. A new study from a collaboration between Ryerson University, the University of Toronto, and Dalhousie University in Halifax finds that children whose parents or caregivers allow them to travel or explore independently are more physically active.

The researchers designed their study to investigate the impact of adult supervision on children’s physical health. They surveyed more than 1,000 parents and caregivers of children in grades five and six. The children were from 16 Toronto public schools and a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. The children wore accelerometers for seven days, to provide data about their activity levels.

According to the surveys, 35 percent of caregivers reported never allowing children to go out on their own or with friends. Sixteen percent of caregivers reported frequently or always permitting children to travel independently, without adult supervision.

The children who were permitted at least some unsupervised time to explore on their own or with friends were 14 to 19 percent more physically active than children who were never allowed to explore independently.

Lead study author Raktim Mitra explains the connection between unsupervised time and physical activity. “Hypothetically speaking, when children are out on their own or with friends, that kind of creates opportunities for them to walk more or go places or participate in spontaneous play times, which contributes to their overall amount of physical activity.”

The researchers suggest that when children are perpetually supervised, they are likely being driven from place to place by their parents. This limits the opportunities for spontaneous activity that children might otherwise engage in. The findings are consistent with other research demonstrating that children are more active when parents are not hovering nearby.

Parents who want to encourage their children to be more active can gradually allow their children to go out independently, like allowing children to walk or bike to school.

This research is published in the journal Urban Studies.

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