For several years, childhood obesity has been seen as an officially recognized problem, with various health and social organizations raising the alarm. Inevitably, federal and state governments become involved, scratching their collective heads over solutions-including a delightfully simple one: fresh air.
One fresh air advocate is San Diego columnist Richard Louv, author of Last Child In the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (Algonquin, 2005). According to his book, the reasons for our current crisis are electronic over-stimulation and parental over-protection, as well as the loss of green space to over-development. One has only to look around to see the consequences: childhood depression and anxiety, stress, ADHD-and obesity. The antidote: a return to unstructured play, along with old-fashioned hiking, fishing, and birding.
Returning to nature has been a recommended therapy for adults at least since Thoreau, but Louv's emphasis on children struck a chord. The response to his book signaled a movement in the making: a loose amalgam of proposals, programs, and exhortations that Louv himself labeled "No Child Left Inside."
More a rallying cry than a formal plan, No Child Left Inside has been appropriated by various programs and even states-such as Connecticut-for new outdoor activities. Other states are funding projects like the New Mexico Outdoor Classrooms Initiative, establishing nature programs for disadvantaged youth. Formal organizations like the Alliance For Childhood and the Sierra Club have commissioned studies about the limited value of computers and the forgotten benefits of unstructured play. Rest assured, the problem is being addressed.
Still, it's a bit disconcerting that initiatives must be taken and alliances formed to encourage children to do what they always did naturally if given the opportunity. For 30 years, experts recommended helmets and kneepads, structured activity, exposure to technology. Now that they're beginning to recommend the opposite, one wonders why they have to. Perhaps it's better than nothing. But the best solution is the same as it's always been: Mom or Dad demanding, "Turn that thing off and go outside!"