I was stunned when I first saw it. My son Marco, age 8, just won a 5K race at 22:45, averaging less than 7-1/2 minute miles for three miles. That’s better than most adults I know, including me!
You see, he’s not a runner, per se. He has no running shoes or clothes, and his only real running training was three 1-1/2 to 2 mile runs in the weeks before this race.
What he is is a kid who has lots of physical freedom and zero screen time every day.
In fact, in terms of physical activity, he’s more like a lower-middle class Kenyan kid than the upper-middle class American kid that he is. Every day, Marco powers himself 1-1/2 miles each way to and from school – biking or rollerblading or scootering or running. After school, he has no screens to veg out in front of, so he runs around playing pretty much nonstop until bedtime. Kenyan kids from the Rift Valley are famous for running miles to and from school every day.
Those Kenyan kids look skinny, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re unhealthy. Marco looks skinny, too. In fact, before the advent of television, practically all kids were skinny by today’s standards.
Data on the increase childhood obesity that’s available, while shocking, understates how much fatter kids have become because the data only go back to the 1960s at the earliest, when kids were watching hours of television per day. While there’s no data on weight or BMI for kids in the 1940s or before, before television, it’s interesting to check out photos of kids back then. I have a well-worn photo of my dad and his neighborhood pals from around 1940, when they were about ten years old. They’re all skinny as rails, by our standards today.
So, I offer an alternative to the approach of all those famous efforts, like Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, to slim down kids. Let’s Move advocates that kids eat healthier and participate in all sorts of adult-administered activities.
I say, give them freedom and cut out the screen time. It’s way more effective, and it’s a heck of a lot more fun for kids.
What do you think?