Irish parents urged to tackle obesity with play

Irish parents have been urged to play traditional games with their children to help combat the obesity crisis among children.

Games like hopscotch, skipping and kicking a ball against a wall help nurture fundamental motor skills and build up muscle in children.

Grace O’Malley, specialist physiotherapist in paediatric obesity, said parents need to pass on old-fashioned playground skills to the next generation to ensure they get enough daily exercise.

“Children over five need to be getting 60 minutes of play a day that makes them breathless,” said Dr O’Malley, senior physiotherapist at Temple Street Hospital, who works mainly with children with obesity.

“Your body adapts to what it is exposed to. You don’t just learn how to kick a ball or use a racket or hop or bounce a ball, it’s fundamental skills which must be practised.

“The best thing to facilitate it is having fun which involves family members or friends playing with a child. If they have no experience of playing it is not something that is going to come naturally so it’s (about) teaching them how to skip and use a skipping rope and play hopscotch and using handball against a wall.

“These are all the things we take for granted that we learned as children.”

Soccer icon Johnny Giles has revealed how he honed his famous ball skills on the street while kicking a ball against railings and kerbs in inner city Dublin.

Dr O’Malley is the director of the W8TOGO Healthy Lifestyles programme at Temple Street Hospital, a service that treats children and teenagers with clinical obesity, in conjunction with their families.

She also advised parents of babies to cut down on using equipment like walkers and bouncers in favour of letting the infants crawl and roll around safely.

Dr O’Malley said children between two and five need to be getting three hours of play every day.

“Naturally toddlers play like that but it’s becoming more difficult because we tend to give them a screen, try to keep them in one spot to make lives easier.

“But really it can be detrimental to their long-term health to let them do that. It’s really important to let them move.”

She said parents should try and lessen the use of nursery equipment which keeps children restrained or buckled in.

She said busy lifestyle of modern parents in the 21st century mean children there has been an increase in babies being restrained in equipment like walkers, car seats and bouncers.


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