Family life

Strollers keep young kids inactive, new study warns

Paediatricians suggest parents stroll, rather than use a stroller, to keep young kids more active.

Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

When I was pregnant with my son, Isaac, I read more about baby gear than I did about actual babies. Picking the perfect stroller was a decision I agonized over, and I vividly remember walking through the store comparing the features of each stroller. By that point, my husband had lost patience with my mission and settled into one of the baby gliders. (He wasn’t alone; a few other dads-to-be were waiting for their partners over in that section, too.)

After the birth of our second child, we upgraded to a double jogging stroller, which I researched for twice as long and spent twice as much on. That stroller was the most expensive piece of baby gear we’d ever purchased. Trust me, when you’re spending hundreds of dollars on one piece of gear, you want it to be perfect—and it needs to be perfect because you know you’ll use it a lot.

But researchers from The Hospital for Sick Children and St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto now warn parents against overuse of this indispensable piece of baby gear, claiming a link between stroller use and the physical activity levels of their young children. Results of the small study were published last week in BMC Public Health.

The study, led by Catherine Birken, was based on interviews during well-baby visits at Toronto’s TARGet Kids!, a primary-care research network, last fall. Speaking with 14 parents of children aged one to five, researchers wanted to get a better idea of why parents opt to use strollers during outings rather than just walk with their kids. The top reasons that parents provided included transportation, storage, supervision of their kids and their own physical activity.

Most often, parents use strollers to take their kids to the park or on other outings involving physical activity. That was certainly the case when I lived in suburban Winnipeg, when bundling the kids up in the stroller and taking them to the playground was the best way to get them to a place to blow off steam. It was also the best way to take the kids home after they’d worn themselves out.

But considering the 2012 Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for kids under four, which states that kids shouldn’t sit or be restrained for prolonged periods of time, researchers suggest that parents should consider letting their kids walk rather than use a stroller.

“Strollers and the context of their use should be considered when developing interventions to promote physical activity in children,” Birken told the CBC. “As guidelines continue to evolve, we want to ensure that they do not inadvertently reduce children’s opportunities for outdoor time and play by recommending reduced stroller use.”

That said, any parent of a young child will know how indispensable a stroller is for transporting not only their child to and from the park but also all the gear associated with that trip. Diapers, snacks, toys and any treasures they find along the way get loaded into the stroller. Besides, carting that much stuff in a diaper bag isn’t always comfortable. And if you’re a runner, your jogging stroller isn’t simply a piece of baby gear but an essential piece of training equipment. I trained for several half-marathons while pushing a jogging stroller. A few parents interviewed for the study noted that being able to put their kids in a stroller and go for a walk was good for parents’ mental health.

While the research is in the preliminary stages and only 14 parents were interviewed, it provides parents with some food for thought when they prepare for a day out with their kids. The bottom line, in my opinion? Don’t stress out about the time your child spends in a stroller—it’s all good as long as you’re balancing it with plenty of active play.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences of giving up her big-city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.

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