They say that a penny saved is a penny earned. That’s exactly what children aged 8-11 could be doing for society if we permit them to play for 25 minutes a day, three days a week. We could save $62.5 billion by averting health care expenditures and loss of productivity related to obesity according to research published by Bruce Lee on May 1st in Health Affairs. Bruce Lee and his team from John Hopkins University Bloomberg School and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center at Carnegie Mellon University fed data into supercomputers with computational models to look at what would happen to obesity rates as we adjust time playing for children 8-11 years old.
The crux of this study is that even a modest increase in play would yield big bottom line results. The national average shows us that 32% of children currently get 25 minutes of exercise a day for three days a week. That leaves plenty of room for improvement. If we invest today in programs that encourage physical activity we’ll have big pay-offs in the future. We need to begin planting the seeds early because studies have shown that a high BMI at 18 will lead people to have high BMI throughout adulthood. High BMI is associated with higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, stroke, gallbladder disease, depression, and anxiety. All of these health issues not only decrease the quality of life but inflate health care expenditures and affect productivity through absence at work.
While the study is built around many broad assumptions it still raises some important issues, like the importance of physical activity in children. Furthermore, the billions in savings do not even begin to quantify the less tangible benefits of feeling good and happy, which will pay further dividends to society. Still we hope studies like this will guide our decision makers and influencers to help encourage activities, programs, and resources that spur more play and physical activity in children.