So a group of international health experts conducted a study that found playing outside is good for kids. Really.
The respected health journal Lancet recently published its findings. "Just making sure children play outside will double the amount of physical activity they get," an Associated Press story quoted the study's lead author, Dr. Lars Bo Andersen of the Norwegian School of Sports Science.
Kids don't necessarily need strenuous exercise to be healthy, the research found. They just need to be active.
In other health news, breathing is good for you and eating less might help you lose weight.
How has it come to this? How is it that physicians need to be writing prescriptions for play along with Ritalin?
A partial answer would come not from the field of medical science but instead from socio- logy. Maybe the world isn't a more dangerous place than it was 30 years ago, but it certainly feels as though it is.
Summertime formerly meant turning kids loose to do mostly as they please. Now parents worry about exposing their children to every sort of menace beyond the four walls of home.
From the environmental realm come ozone health alerts and fecal coliform warnings. From the animal kingdom arise fears about West Nile virus and Lyme disease. And from the beast kingdom, child predators emerge.
The promise of modern technology is that it makes the world smaller and better. But the same technology that gives us the Internet, chat rooms and brilliantly graphic video games and is spawning a generation of home-ridden zombies in the process also nourishes parental anxieties about a world that seems bigger and badder.
And that's where another partial answer can be found. "It's not just that children should be more active, it's the whole family," said Dr. Ram Weiss, a pediatrician at Hebrew University Medical School and the author of a commentary about the study in Lancet. "Parents should be role models."
On July 20, the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story about the latest "fantasy" sports craze never mind that fantasy sports and sports share the same relation as pornography and love. At computer screens across the country, adults are now indulging themselves in fantasy fishing contests.
ESPN and FLW Outdoors sponsor fantasy-fishing leagues. Players compete that's not the right word for cash prizes, boats and large screen plasma televisions just what this crowd doesn't need.
Used to be that fishing was recreation. You'd go fishing instead of working, mowing the yard or hearing a sermon. And catching wasn't nearly as important as spending some time outside, in the fresh air, on the water with friends or, better yet, with children.
There's even an organization dedicated to getting adults to share their angling activities with kids: The Take Me Fishing campaign and its Web site www.takemefishing.org are products of the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation.
But fishing has become a sport, and then a fantasy sport. So the next logical step in this progression is the creation of the Recreational Bench Warmer Foundation's Take Me Fantasy Fishing campaign. What a shame.
A few weeks ago, I struggled to wake my children up at 5 a.m. to go fishing. They arrived, groggy-eyed, at the marina in Aransas Pass to meet fishing guide Capt. Gary Tinnerman an hour later.
We watched the sun rise over the Gulf of Mexico. As a rain shower popped up, we saw a magnificent rainbow that stretched from horizon to horizon in the morning sky. We talked about jellyfish and pelicans and porpoises and ate soggy sandwiches. And, oh, yes, we caught some fish.
I fear that Dr. Andersen and the Take Me Fishing folks are fighting the same losing battle on two different fronts: one against a social and technological trend and the other against apathetic parents. And maybe a partial remedy can be found in fathers and mothers who can share with their children the eternal promise to humanity of a brilliant sunrise and a vivid rainbow.