Children Need a "Green Hour" Outside Every Day

By Timothy R. Butler | Posted at 5:17 AM

Mounting scientific evidence indicates that the long-term health of U.S. children depends on them spending less time in front of video screens and more time outdoors. There is no better time to for children to experience the world outside than summer.

That's the gist of a report from the National Wildlife Federation that says U.S. children on average spend 44.6 hours per week watching television or playing video games. That's double the time children spent just 20 years ago in sedentary video pursuits.

At the same time, obesity rates in U.S. children have more than doubled. Medical professionals warn that for the generations of Americans born after 1990, the rise in childhood obesity, with its related problems of diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, could reduce average life spans in Americans for the first time since the end of World War II.

Because children who regularly play outside are more active and more physically fit, the National Wildlife Federation urges parents to provide their children with a “green hour” every day, a time for unstructured play and interaction with the great outdoors. The green hour can take place in a garden, back yard, neighborhood park or any other safe and accessible green space.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, time spent outdoors helps children to develop mentally in the following beneficial ways:

- Improves overall student performance in school.

- Promotes and improves critical-thinking skills.

- Helps to improve math skills.

- Helps to improve life-science skills.

- Helps to improve standardized test scores.

- Supports and improves other science learning.

- Supports language arts development.

More information about the National Wildlife Federation's green hour initiative can be found online at

There is troubling news for parents who suffer from insomnia. Not only are they likely to pass on to their children their difficulties in getting a good night's sleep, but their adolescent children can experience an elevated risk of suicide.

The news was included in a report presented June 12 in Westchester, Ill., at SLEEP 2008, the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

The study, authored by Dr. Xianchen Liu of the University of Pittsburgh, focused on nearly 800 teenagers (450 boys and 348 girls), with an average age of 14.4. The study relied on data gathered from a questionnaire completed by the study participants.

Researchers found that, compared with adolescents of parents without insomnia, participants with parents who experienced insomnia were more than twice as likely to report insomnia, daytime fatigue and other psychological problems.

The adolescent offspring of parents with insomnia were also more likely to experience depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and recorded more suicide attempts during the past year.

“These results suggest that a history of chronic insomnia in parents is not only associated with elevated risk for insomnia, but also with elevated risks for a wide range of mental health problems, substance use and suicidal behavior in adolescent offspring,” said Liu.

Insomnia is the most common recognized sleep disorder. People with insomnia experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or they regularly wake up too early.

Sleep experts recommended that adolescents get nine hours of sleep every night.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers the following tips on how to get a good night's sleep:

- Follow a consistent bedtime routine.

- Establish a relaxing setting at bedtime.

- Get a full night's sleep every night.

- Avoid foods or drinks that contain caffeine, as well as any medicine that has a stimulant, before bedtime.

- Avoid staying up all night to cram for an exam, do homework, etc.

- If after-school activities are proving to be too time consuming, consider cutting back on these activities.

- Keep computers and televisions out of the bedroom.

- Do not go to bed hungry, but don't eat a big meal before bedtime, either.

- Avoid rigorous exercise within six hours of bedtime.

- Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and a little bit cool.

- Get up at the same time every morning.

E-mail Ven Griva at