NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 14, 2008

All the safety measures we have taken to protect our children have produced such harmful effects as increasing the rate of childhood obesity; in fact, one in six children in America is obese, and many of them face a lifetime of chronic illness, says the Center for Disease Control.  However, the situation could cure itself if children would just get off the sofa! 

But how do we lure children outside?  One key attraction is risk, says Philip Howard, chairman of Common Good.  Risk is fun, he continues, at least the moderate risks that were common in prior generations.  Today, America has stripped all the fun out of playtime:

  • There is nothing left in playgrounds that would attract the interest of a child over the age of four.
  • Exercise in schools is carefully programmed, when it exists at all.
  • Some schools have even banned tag and running at recess!
  • Little Leagues forbid sliding into base, some towns ban sledding and high diving boards are history.

Safety is important, says Howard, but do the resulting trade-offs, such as the increase in childhood obesity, make sense?  There is one solution, he adds, someone on behalf of society should be authorized to make these choices, and the courts must honor those decisions.  Otherwise, the pious accusation of safety fanatics will guarantee a cultural spiral downwards toward the lowest common denominator. 

For America's children, that means spending more than six hours per day staring at a screen, Howard concludes.  Is that the way we want our children to grow up?

Source: Philip K. Howard, "Why Safe Kids Are Becoming Fat Kids," Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2008.

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