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“Just go outside and play!” Dubious “obesity” solution and questions of access and empathy.

Posted by on Nov 28, 2012 in Blog Posts | 8 comments

If you recall, our family recently ended our 18 month experiment in rental living. Tired of our peak-of-the-market mortgage and home-maintenance and looming fixes, we sold our home and many of our belongings 18 months ago and moved into a rental situation in an attempt to simplify. The apartment was roomy, had a fitness center, pool, movie room, lovely staff, but didn’t work out for a number of reasons.

One of the many gifts from this experiment was the understanding for different living situations. I wrote a little about my observations around the logistics of getting food to a top floor apartment and how the “obesity solution” of “Get thee to a farmer’s market!” assumes so much…

Similarly, the “childhood obesity solution” of telling children to “Just go outside and play” also assumes a blessed privilege.

Which is the reason for this post. Here was how this playing outside business has evolved for us. In our previous home, we lived on a busy street. We could walk or scooter on bumpy sidewalks, and walk in about ten minutes to a great local park. When we moved to the apartmenr, if I wanted M to play outside, I had to drive her to a park and sit there. I would pick her up from school, with a packed snack and water, and drive to a local playground where she could play with her friends. I tried to do this about three times a week for an hour or so. I could do that since:

  • I work from home
  • have a husband with the health benefits
  • I have a car
  • I have a smart phone so I can keep up with some business needs on the go

At our apartment, there were few options for outdoor play: a small courtyard, where neighbors complained of noise, or the kids in the landscaping. We occasionally resorted to playing Ogo sport in the hall where I had to shush my child. If we played a Wii video game with dancing or jumping, even at 4 in the afternoon, the downstairs neighbors would bang on the ceiling— two floors below.

Contrast then to our new home of  10 days. We now live on a quiet side street in a nice neighborhood. On our first day, while my husband and I unpacked, she played off and on outside for SIX HOURS. I met the parents of the three families where the children bounced back and forth from front lawn to backyard swings. The children are old enough to mind basic safety rules and they played and played. They rode bikes and scooters with helmets (some of them). Another parent had bought those plastic “children at play signs” and placed them on the street. Now and then a parent would check in. We all have cell phones, and when I went out to yell for M in the darkness, hearing shrieks and giggles form the neighbor’s yard, “M!! Time for dinner!” I heard,  “Coming MOM!” We walk to school that is four blocks away, we live two blocks from a playground with tennis courts, and soon and outdoor ice-rink. All free for the use. I feel so grateful.

And all the children left at the apartment building (“luxury”rentals) have no playground, and no place to ride bikes…

I’m just saying, many folks could use a little empathy, and a little imagination when handing down edicts to “just play outside.” It isn’t always that easy.

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