by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Mine was a childhood in motion-- hard to replicate or even imagine today, just a generation later. Growing up in the heart of Washington, DC, every day I: walked to and from school twice, played kickball at recess, took after-school gymnastics or ballet classes, rode my bike, ran with the
neighbors' dogs for two miles in the local park, played Kick-the-Can and Hide-and-Seek with the neighborhood crew. And in summer, the activity intensified with daily swimming, hiking and exploration of the sandpiles and cornfields near our ramshackle farmhouse in New Hampshire. This was all normal -- every kid I knew lived this way, and each grade had at most one or two classmates who were overweight, usually for genetic reasons. And it was a very big deal -- headlines in our little neighborhood -- when any child went to a hospital emergency room.
Childhood in America has transmogrified dramatically since then. Family size on average is smaller, most families have two cars so many kids walk and bike far less often, and parents in general have become more protective and vigilant against real or imagined dangers such as pedophiles and would-be abductors. As result fewer kids run wild in our streets, parks and playgrounds today. A University of Michigan Study shows that kids today spend less than half as much times outdoors as they did 20 years ago.
Physical Education is no longer a bedrock of our public education system, with many PE programs cut due to budget restraints and pressure to raise standardized test scores. Childhood obesity and diabetes have skyrocketed as a result of all these factors, and apparently, so have emergency room visits by children.
Against this backdrop, I recently spoke on National Public Radio's "Tell Me More" program to discuss a new study that appeared in Pediatrics purporting that PE class injuries have skyrocketed in the past decade. Pediatric researchers from Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio and Ohio State University analyzed retrospective data from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission pertaining to over 400,000 children 5-18 years old from 1997-2007. The alarming findings: emergency room department PE-related injuries have positively mushroomed lately, an 150% increase. The study's authors wanted to raise the alarm about how unsafe PE class has apparently become, and how parents need to be more vigilant about their schools' programs.