Could strollers be hazardous to your kids' health?
A University of Utah graduate student and her professor say getting preschoolers out of their carriers could help reduce the childhood obesity epidemic.
They've developed a fledgling social media campaign, called Track-It SLC, urging caregivers to walk with their children in places they are already visiting, such as Hogle Zoo, Tracy Aviary and Wheeler Farm.
"We have the tools. We just need the will to motivate ourselves to get out there and enjoy nature," said Lindsay Janicki, a 25-year-old who will graduate in 2014 with a medical degree and a masters of public health.
Janicki presented her project at the Utah Public Health Association's annual conference last week. She has mapped out kid-friendly distances at Sugar House Park, the aviary, zoo and Wheeler Farm.
For example, it's a half-mile from one of the parking lots in Sugar House Park to a playground.
She chose spots where walking should be easy and fun for children. She picked walking as the physical activity to promote because most people can do it and it has health benefits.
Her research found that children as young as 3 years old can walk a half-mile, depending on their current physical activity level. Children up to age 7 can walk up to two miles.
While strollers are handy, Janicki said they decrease the physical activity of children. She showed pictures of older children who had clearly outgrown the carriers taking a ride.
"People just get in the habit [of] you get out of the car and into the stroller," said Christy Porucznik, a U. assistant professor in public health and Janicki's adviser. "They don't think about the fact of, we're at the zoo. There are no cars here. This would be a good place to let the child try to walk."
Porucznik said she pitched the idea to her student because she's been surprised to see older children in strollers. Plus, as a committee member of the Utah Department of Health's Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity Program, the group is trying to find a variety of ways to get Utahns active and eating better.
They came across a small study out of Canada suggesting that preschoolers even up to age 5 were spending too much time in strollers and that it was linked to being overweight or obese.
Nationally, one in three children is overweight or obese. In Utah, 20 percent of elementary-aged children weigh too much. Obese children are more likely to become heavy adults. And they are more likely to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Janicki and Porucznik envision caregivers looking at the walking maps and letting older children navigate the routes. And knowing that it's nearly a mile about three-quarters walking the perimeter of the aviary could be a motivator to try taking their children on hikes.
"Kids love to explore. The thing is making sure it's a safe environment for them to run and explore," Porucznik said.
Still in its infancy, the Facebook page and blog are seeking suggestions for routes to map. They hope like-minded caregivers can find friends on the site and meet up without their strollers.
Find Track-It SLC online
O Track-It SLC is a fledgling social media campaign that urges caregivers to walk with their children. Kid-friendly distances are mapped at Sugar House Park, Tracy Aviary, Hogle Zoo and Wheeler Farm.
You also can search for Track-It SLC's Facebook page.