Is Your Child Getting Enough Healthy Exercise?

Healthnotes Newswire (November 21, 2006)—More than one third of American kids don’t meet the recommended standards for fitness—and it appears to be for the very reasons you might think: too little physical activity and too much television.

The problem of childhood obesity has gained more attention in the past decade, as rates have steadily increased. It appears that young people’s fitness—the ability to perform physical tasks without overtaxing the heart—has also declined. Low fitness in childhood and adolescence is of concern because it is directly related to chronic health problems in adulthood, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

In a new study that was part of a series known as the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) and was published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 3,287 boys and girls between 12 and 19 years old were examined and interviewed before performing physical tests to determine their fitness levels.

The unsurprising finding: boys and girls who reported participating in vigorous physical activity were found to be more fit than those who didn’t, and those who spent three or more hours per day sitting while using television, video, or a computer were less fit than those who didn’t.

More than one third (35%) of the youths in this study did not meet the fitness recommendations developed by FITNESSGRAM, a fitness testing program used by schools throughout the United States. Boys were more fit than girls, and this difference increased with age. Weight had a marked impact on fitness: overweight teens as well as those considered “at risk for overweight” (those whose weight was high but did not meet the definition for being overweight) had lower fitness levels than their normal-weight peers.

The news that so many of our youth might not be physically fit is alarming, but the study suggests that we can intervene to reverse this trend. Education, public health programs, and other methods aimed at getting kids off the couch and onto the playground could increase their fitness and improve their long-term health prospects.

“If we can get kids in situations where spontaneous play is more likely to happen, and limit their access to television and computers, they would naturally be more active and more fit,” commented Evan Ellerson, a high school physics and chemistry teacher who coaches soccer and fencing. “The first thing parents might think about is whether it is a good thing for televisions and computers to be in kids’ bedrooms. Then they might think about imposing restrictions on screen time in general.”

(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2006;160:1005–12)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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