Children are more independent and whose parents give them more free rein to roam are also more physically active, new research shows. Yet parents they also found that parents are increasingly worried about affording them this independence for fear of their safety.
Parents are becoming less and less likely to allow their children this kind of independence, Dr Angie S. Page and her colleagues from the University of Bristol point out, and more research is needed on how to change the social and physical environment to allow parents to feel more comfortable giving their children more autonomy.
Parents may be increasingly reluctant to let their children wander on their own due to concerns about traffic dangers or the threat that their child might be molested, the researchers note, or they may also want to spend more time interacting with their children.
How the study was done
Page and her team looked at the independent mobility - the degree to which the children were allowed to move around without adult supervision. An example would be allowing children to walk to school or to a friend's house without being accompanied by an adult.
Research has shown that children with more independent mobility interact more with other children and their environments, while lower levels of independent mobility could "negatively influence children's emotional, social and cognitive development," and may lead to more sedentary behaviors, putting them at risk of obesity, Page and her colleagues write. Evidence is mounting, they add, that children are spending less time on their own outside the home, and more likely to travel by car when they go out.
To investigate the relationship between independent mobility and physical activity, they looked at 1 307 boys and girls, 10 – to - 11 years old, attending 23 different schools in a large city. Children wore a device called an accelerometer to measure their physical activity for a week. The researchers looked at both local and area independent mobility, and asked the children how often they were allowed to go to various places on their own or with friends.
Overall, the researchers found, boys had more independent mobility than girls. And the greater a child's independent mobility, the more active he or she was on weekdays. However, the researchers found no link between independent mobility and weekend physical activity.
"Understanding the factors that influence independent mobility is necessary to determine the optimum social and physical environment that encourages parents and adult carers to allow their children to be physically active outside unsupervised," the researches say.
"This should be in addition to encouraging children (and parents) to be more physically active outside together. Both of these approaches may be important mechanisms to promote increased physical activity in young people," they conclude. – (Reuters Health, January 2009)
Lazy kids at risk for heart trouble
Parenting style key to diet?