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Big Kids in Strollers: A Growing Trend

It's not your imagination: Strollers are getting bigger to seat toddlers and older kids, well into age 5. It's convenient, sure. But is it healthy?

On weekends, Lisa Burby, mother of a 2- and 5-year-old, wouldn't dream of leaving home without a stroller. "If we don't contain the kids, my husband and I can't do any shopping. When they start running between the clothing racks, we say, 'OK, we're strapping you in and you're staying put,'" says the public relations representative.

Of course, it's not unusual to stroll a 2-year-old. In fact, strollers are normally used for children from infancy to 36 months of age, according to ASTM International, a nonprofit organization in West Conshohocken, Penn. that sets stroller manufacturing standards.

Backlash

But take a look around at any mall or even in your neighborhood, and you're likely to see parents pushing kindergarten, even grade-school age kids. It's a burgeoning trend that hasn't escaped critics, like blogger Laura Miller, whose TooBigForStroller.com posts candid photos of parents out-and-about pushing their able-bodied, older kids in strollers. Kids' faces are obscured with a circle that says "walk."

Growing demand

And yet stroller manufacturers are answering the demand.

Maclaren, the upscale British import, for example, upped the weight limit on its strollers to 55 pounds because consumers are using strollers for older and/or larger children. (Forty pounds was the industry standard.) Its Techno XLR model is even designed to hold a child up to 65 pounds and 44 inches tall. Making larger strollers helps parents with busy lifestyles accomplish their goals.

And let's face it, being able to "containerize" a dawdling preschooler or older child in a mega stroller can make it easier to accomplish your goals – whether that's shopping at the mall or taking a long walk.

Weight worries

However, in light of the childhood obesity problem that's raging, seeing a 5-year-old pushed around in a stroller doesn't sit well with health care professionals.

According to recent government figures, nearly 12 percent of 2- to 19-year-olds are at or above the 97th percentile of body mass index for age growth charts. Overweight kids have as much as an 80 percent chance of staying that way as an adult and suffering from weight-related health problems earlier on, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Getting real

Still, it's not realistic to expect a 4-, 5- or 6-year-old to go the distance at the zoo, fairs and amusement parks. "A child of that age isn't going to be able to walk for five or six hours," says Cheryl B. Anderson, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the Children's Nutrition Research Center at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

But, like ice cream, Anderson thinks strollers for older kids are wonderful, but in moderation.

To keep your kids moving in the right direction, try these smart strolling strategies.

1. Downsize your to-do list.

Instead of routinely cramming all your errands into a day at the mall with your kids along for the ride, do as much as you can on your lunch hour, so weekend shopping trips are shorter and kids can walk themselves. "Give up a little bit of efficiency to get your kids more active," urges James O. Hill, Ph.D., director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver.

2. Shop solo.

If possible, get a sitter or have your mate play tag with your kids at home so you can trek through the stores unencumbered. It's a win-win.

3. Don't be pushy.

On day trips, take a stroller along – but encourage your older children to walk as much as possible. Expect them to go in and out of the stroller; kids have a threshold of tolerance for both walking and sitting, says Anderson.

Take their cues rather than coaxing them to remain seated with an endless litany of snacks and other distractions, and factor in extra time. With older children on foot part of the time, you might not be able to cover the entire zoo, for example, in one shot.

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