Childhood obesity shouldn't be that hard to combat -- but these days, it's a major problem that can hurt both the kids and the environment.There are things you can do about it, though. Pull the iPod ( AAPL) buds out of your kids' ears, turn off the TV and the Xbox, shut down your laptop, and boot your spouse off of his or her AOL ( TWX) account. Go outside. The statistics are getting harder and harder to argue with: Kids are spending more time with electronic gadgets and less time outside. The result: They're less connected to the world around them and more connected to your fridge. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that children begin to watch television regularly at a shockingly young nine months of age, down from three years in 1961. But back then, television was the only electronic distraction. Kaiser reports that children younger than six years old spend two hours a day using "screen media," including television, computers and video games. This is the same amount of time they spend playing outside. It seems that as kids get older, the screen-time goes up and the outdoor time declines. Kids age eight and older spend an hour more than they did in 1999 absorbing media, and they spend a quarter of that time multi-tasking, or switching back and forth between Web-surfing, IMing, texting on their cell phones, listening to their MP3 players, and so on. A few years ago, author and journalist Richard Louv declared that our children were suffering from nature deficit disorder. Grist has a Q&A with him about it. This lack of early exposure lasts a lifetime. The Nature Conservancy reports that since 1991 participation in outdoor activities like camping, backpacking, fishing, hiking and hunting has fallen off by around 15%.
- Hop on a bike with kids who are old enough and find safe routes for peddling to the movies, nearby restaurants, baseball practice, dance class, friends' houses and even on small errands. You'll save money on gas and show your kids that they don't always need you and your car keys to get around.
- Fishing or berry/apple/pumpkin/whatever picking shows kids that food does not come in an endless stream, neatly packed in boxes from someplace far away. They'll see that what we eat has to be grown, or grow up, on farms and in the water and woods and it teaches them what grows and swims locally. They'll start to appreciate why it's important to protect local waters and farmland and woodland, and maybe even waste a little less at the dinner table.
- Remember, when you're small a little green space goes a long way. There are 5,842 state parks covering 13 million acres. They have 43,000 miles in walking trails. And there's city and county parkland on top of that. Some of these areas are suitable for camping, canoeing, skiing and swimming; others are just the right size for a leisurely, hour-long weekend excursion.