Children's play areas 'answer to obesity'

The solution to childhood obesity is not "quack remedies" but more play areas away from traffic, an expert says.

Obesity in youngsters is not a disease "yet the Government, doctors, drugcompanies and many therapists are treating it as if it is", Rob Wheway, play safety adviser at the Child Accident Prevention Trust, says.

He argues that children want to play out "as they always have done" in areas where there are slow traffic speeds and play areas.

Yet a focus on other "treatments" and "therapies" is detracting from creating a healthy environment, he says in an article for Spaces&Places magazine, out today.

He draws parallels with the "filthy state of London in the mid-19th century", when people died from dysentery and cholera.

"No doubt all sorts of potions, therapies and cures were peddled, and I assume the government at the time would have listened to those appearing to have remedies," he says. However, it was only the building of sewers that began to solve the issue, which resulted in "a massive leap forward" in health improvements.

"Equally, we now need to create a healthy environment for our children," he says in the article.

There is no evidence that calorie intake has risen, and while a healthy diet is important "it will not solve the obesity problem".

He adds: "A medical model of drugs, surgery and therapies is as useful for the vast majority of children as the quack remedies offered in previous centuries.

"Children need and want

to play out. They are

not couch potatoes but

couch prisoners, confined at home because of parents' quite reasonable fears of traffic.

"My research for local authorities and housing trusts has shown that

where traffic speeds are

slow children want to

play out as they always

have done.

"Even today, where the environment is free

from cars, parents

still let children as young

as three play out in the

front garden or on the front step."

Children could make many more "journeys" than merely walking to school, including skateboarding and cycling, he says. "Sadly, neither transport planners nor the Government consider these journeys to be

transport, so they are ignored.

"They are vastly underestimated by those who claim to be health experts. The level of their ignorance can be gauged by the fact that the 'enlightened' ones consider that the journey to and from school is the most important regular exercise a child will take.

"Whilst safe routes to school are valuable, children only attend school on half the days in the year and consequently those journeys are a small fraction of the potential journeys they could make."

He argues that recreational and play facilities, such as for ball games and skateboards, had a long life and "are used by young

people from when they are very young until they reach their early 20s".

The emphasis should also be on catering for people's lifestyle "rather than assuming that everything must be a treatment or therapy, or a certificated activity", he says.

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