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'Safety-First' Playgrounds Linked to Bored, Inactive Kids: Study
Date:1/4/2012

By Lisa Esposito
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Remember those tall, shiny, metal, sliding boards? They seemed dauntingly steep, but you took the plunge and whizzed downward. Next, you tackled the monkey bars, climbing higher and higher and hanging by your knees at the pinnacle.

Playgrounds are a lot different for today's preschoolers. Low sliding boards, safer plastic climbers and fence-protected platforms are meant to prevent injury. But a preliminary study suggests an unintended result: unenthused, less active kids.

Platforms lead to nowhere, climbers are short and slides are slow. The equipment is easily mastered and kids soon lose interest, daycare providers told researchers in a series of focus groups.

And with increasingly sedentary kids and a worsening childhood obesity epidemic, the study authors said it's time to start balancing safety concerns with the need for vigorous, stimulating play.

Led by Dr. Kristen Copeland, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, the study involved 49 local daycare providers, many highly experienced, at 34 child-care centers. These included inner city, suburban, Head Start and Montessori, church-affiliated, YMCA, worksite- or university-affiliated and corporate/for-profit facilities. Focus groups took place between August 2006 and June 2007.

In the study, appearing online Jan. 4 and in the February issue of Pediatrics, providers described barriers to healthy exercise: state licensing codes and financial constraints that restrict equipment choices, injury concerns and pressures to put class learning above playtime, whether coming from parents or local kindergarten-readiness initiatives.

"We were surprised to hear that parents -- both low-income and upper-income -- were focusing on traditional 'academics' (letters, numbers, colors) instead of outdoor play, even for children as you
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