Child Health

Play and Child Health and Well-being

Play is one of the best things for children’s health

Play is vital for children’s physical and mental health and well being. Through play children develop physical, cognitive and social skills.

Children are leading increasingly sedentary lives with play dominated by screen-based activities.

Play and Child Health: the Evidence

As early as 2001, the British Medical Journal suggested that the main solution to obesity should be to reduce television viewing and promote playing (British Medical Journal 2001).

Research by University College London recommends that:

Letting children go out to play is one of the best things that parents can do for their children’s health: outdoor play uses more calories… and children get more
physical exercise playing out than from formal sports activities or clubs.

Similarly the British
Heart Foundation
recommends that

Making sure that all children can enjoy physical activity, regardless of their co-ordination skills is critical in reducing the risk of becoming overweight as they grow up. Unstructured free play should be a part of every childhood experience and we urge the government and schools to dedicate a similar level of resources to encouraging free play at school as they do competitive sport.

A British Medical Association report sums it up:

Given the tracking of obesity and the associated risks, it is apparent that the period
of childhood is vital in establishing preventative measures and that play and physical activity is central to this as well as a preparation for a healthy adulthood.

Play and Mental Health

Play is not just about physical activity. Good play experiences are also important for children and young people’s mental health.

This is particularly important given the current rise in rates of mental health problems among young people. It is estimated that one in five children and adolescents suffer from a mental health problem.

The Mental Health Foundation reports that the increasingly limited amount of time children have to play outside, or to attend supervised play projects was a causative factor in the rise of mental ill health in young people.

Play and unstructured time that allow for peer interactions are important components of social and emotional well-being… Play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resilience they will need to face future challenges.

Play England, 2008

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