Magazine article Newsweek

A Faltering First Step

Magazine article Newsweek

A Faltering First Step

Article excerpt

Can exercise saucers hinder development?

THE EXERSAUCER BABY PLAY GYM seems ideal for busy parents. With suspended seats and trays full of toys at tots' fingertips, the Exersaucer and similar "stationary activity centers" keep kids amused and out of trouble. New mother Rosie O'Donnell swears by hers, says she couldn't get a break to go to the bathroom without it. More than a million children use them happily. But some doctors and physical therapists are starting to warn that these devices, if overused, can foster bad posture and weaken back and stomach muscles-even delay walking. So far the evidence is largely anecdotal, and manufacturers defend the saucers as safe, especially if they're not used for long stretches. Kids can "develop some coordination as they're turning and bouncing and rocking," says Amy Glosh, product manager for Evenflo, who says the company did not consult with doctors when it developed the Exersaucer. However, she recommends that children be placed in them for no more than 20 minutes per day.

Saucers, whose sales shot to $30.5 million last year, are essentially walkers without wheels. In 1992, the AMA unsuccessfully sought to ban walkers, primarily because kids could tumble down stairs in them. With saucers, "you've gone from the most dangerous thing that people used to buy children" to a safer device, says Portland, Ore., pediatrician Robert A. Mendelson, who uses saucers in his waiting room. But walkers turned out to have other problems, too: studies showed that they hinder some children's walking skills and hurt their muscular and spinal development. …

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