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Calorie Count on the Playground

The University of South Florida playground study found that on average the first, second and third graders burned 112 calories during 30 minutes of activity on school-age appropriate playground equipment. photo courtesy of KOMPAN

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We know there’s a general trend in adults toward sedentary “activities”— watching T.V. and being online are probably the top two, if you don’t count sleeping! The Surgeon Generals Report on Physical Activity and Health suggests that people should burn a minimum of 150 calories every day to maintain a healthy body. Fat chance, you say?

Well, the Baby Boomer generation led fairly active lives as kids, but kids today are less active and it shows. It’s estimated that 25 million kids are overweight or obese in the U.S., and the numbers keep climbing.

Getting kids active is important, but what’s the best means? Organized sports is one way, but not all kids enjoy participating in group sports.

An obvious way to keep youngsters active on a regular basis is on school playgrounds. The scope and variety of playground equipment today certainly provides many opportunities to have fun while getting some exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise, i.e., as opposed to doing push-ups or running around a track, say.

But how effective is playground fun for burning calories? That’s what KOMPAN wanted to know. The playground equipment designer/manufacturer supplied the University of South Florida in Tampa with a grant to find out and, of course, the kids played on KOMPAN equipment.

“My recent research studies of the free play of first, second and third grade boys and girls on outdoor play structures revealed a significant level of physical activity as shown by total distance traveled and estimated activity calories expended by the children during 30 minutes of play,” explained Louis Bowers, PhD, School of Physical Education, Wellness and Sport Studies at the University of South Florida.

To put that in empirical numbers, the study found the first graders burned an average of 100 calories in a half hour of play on the playground equipment; the second graders burned an average of 107 calories and the third graders about 128 calories. The older students were more vigorous in their play and burned more calories. On one of the playgrounds the third graders averaged 150 calories burned in a half hour.

One interesting result revealed that a group of first graders burned an average of 151 calories in a half hour on a small group play piece.

Red Cliffs Elementary in Nephi, Utah was one of two playgrounds selected for the study. Janet Ware, principal of the school, agreed the engaging playground equipment made a significant difference in her student’s activity level.

“It has been our experience that students play more actively on playgrounds that inspire their imaginations. Playgrounds with prescribed routes become mundane.”

“Children need more opportunities for physical activity that is entertaining and challenging, not rigid, boring or too much like an adult’s exercise program,” agreed Helle Burlingame, director of KOMPAN’s Play Institute in North America.

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June 27, 2019, 2:00 am PDT

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