The limitations of fighting an obesity crisis
One of the dominating themes in the movement to restore play has been childhood obesity. The obvious connection between play and physical activity makes it a natural, if sometimes uncomfortable alliance. When I saw the Pediatrics study on the link between the lack of sleep and childhood obesity the other day, I posted it to Facebook along with a message about my growing suspicion that sleep deprivation amongst kids plays a huge role in many of the challenges we see at school.
From attention deficit to anger management, hyperactivity to obesity – all have been linked to sleep deprivation in children
. The response on Facebook was quite striking – over 40 of my friends commented that they felt strongly that this was the case, and most seemed particularly frustrated by the way school and work schedules made hope of finding a solution unlikely.
With all the attention paid to the obesity crisis, at Playworks, we’ve struggled a little in figuring out how to relate to the issue. While we are confident that we contribute to promoting physical activity, the issue has always seemed so much hairier and complicated than the simple calories in-calories out argument suggests. Recently, I was introduced to the concept of energy balance by some folks from the American Dietetic Association
I think re-framing the obesity crisis in terms of energy balance represents an important opportunity for a broader and more effective response to the larger and more complicated issue that is really at play here. Looking just at calories in and calories out — without taking into consideration the role of sleep, hormones, stress, opportunities to play outside, development and genetics – feels like we are yet again setting up our kids and families as the ones to blame for a situation not of their making.
Oversimplifying the issue does no one any good. Children's health, well-being and education are all parts of a complicated, interconnected system that is going to require a lot of hard work, collaboration and play to make right. Looking at the importance of supporting kids in achieving a healthy energy balance is a great place to start.