An interesting article in Science News looks at some recent news connecting the rise of suburbs in America, and the expansion of waistlines. Generally, the more time you spend in your car, the more you weigh.
This is a great example of the thorny problem of correlation and causation, which we discussed before in reference to astrology. Just because two things are related, that doesn’t always mean that one caused the other. Or that only two factors are involved in the relationship.
Do inactive people go to suburbia, where they can drive everywhere? Or does suburbia require more driving, and discourage walking? And are there other factors that need to be considered?
When I lived in Texas, there were NO sidewalks in the town I lived in. None.
If you wanted to walk anywhere (and I did), you had to either walk in the road, or on the grass. The grass wasn’t actually proper grass–it was the desert, and it was spiny burr grass. This was a fairly serious disincentive to doing anything outside, when you added in the fire ants.
Most of my students hated going outside. Feared it, even. They were not going to be walking to work. Ever.
I’m currently reading “Last Child in the Woods“, which laments the loss of time spent outdoors by children. In one telling quote, a fourth-grader says â€œI like to play indoors â€˜cause thatâ€™s where all the electrical outlets are.â€
In a study I cited recently for a project on entomological literacy, kids under the age of 12 spend less than one hour outdoors per week.
While I don’t totally buy the whole notion of lack of nature as a “disorder,” I do think that our society is disordered in its approach to nature, and also unstructured play. Kids screwing around unsupervised is how to learn best.
I would never have become a scientist had I not spent the first 12 years of my life utterly filthy and mud covered.
The book also takes a pleasantly skeptical approach to parental fears that kids outside are at risk, either of being hurt or victimized. In fact, the actual number of US abductions is quite small. And, sadly, most children are harmed by people they know–so inside isn’t really safer, anyway.
Hopefully, that book will influence parents of current kids to send them outside. And they won’t grow into the kind students I have now, which insist on driving from their dorms to class. Even if it’s only a few blocks away.