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Only Half of Preschoolers Play Outside With Parents Daily, Study Finds

Nearly half of U.S. preschoolers do not engage in parent-supervised playtime outdoors on a daily basis, according to a study published online today in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Of the 8,950 preschool-aged children examined, only 51 percent were reported to have gone outside with a parent for playtime every day.

The study authors pulled data from the National Center for Education Statistics' Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort, which observed a nationally representative sample of 10,700 U.S. children born in 2001. Researchers followed up with each child at roughly nine months, two years, preschool, and kindergarten age.

During the preschool assessment, parents were asked how often they took their child outside for a walk, to play in a park, or to play in a playground. The parents could respond, "Once a day or more," "few times a week," "few times a month," "rarely," or "not at all."

Well and Good

In total, just over half of the preschoolers in the study went outside to play with a parent at least once per day, with 44 percent of mothers and 24 percent of fathers reporting that they had played with their child outside daily. Children who were male, who had more regular playmates, or whose mothers regularly exercised (three or more times per week) were found more likely than others to have daily outside playtime with a parent.

For instance, preschool-aged girls were found 16 percent less likely to be taken outside by their parents on a daily basis compared to boys.

The mother's race/ethnicity also played a factor in the likelihood of daily outside playtime. Asian mothers were 49 percent less likely to play with their children outside on a daily basis, while black mothers had 41 percent lower odds and Hispanic mothers had 20 percent lower odds compared to white mothers.

"Efforts to increase active outdoor play should especially target children who are girls and non-white," the study authors conclude, based on these findings.

Child care also appeared to play a factor in the amount of parent-supervised physical activity a preschooler received. Of the students who weren't in child care, 58 percent went outside daily with a parent (higher than the national average).

By preschool age, over 80 percent of the children in the study were in "nonparental care," spending an average of 28.5 hours per week in that child care setting.

"Our results highlight the considerable room for improvement in parent-supervised outdoor play opportunities for preschool-aged children, which could have numerous benefits for young children's physical health and development," the authors wrote. "For children of parents who work outside the home, focusing efforts and interventions on preschools and child care providers becomes important and necessary."

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