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The Physical Activity Level of Our Kids Needs Improvement

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that children and youth ages 6 to 17 years participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day of the week – which quantifies to 10,000 steps per day for boys and 12,000 daily steps for girls.

The daily 60 minutes should include aerobic activities – such as hiking, walking, skateboarding, running, and sports like basketball, soccer, or football. In addition, muscle-strengthening – climbing trees, weight training, and playing on playground equipment – should be performed on at least three days per week.

Also recommended are bone-strengthening activities – jumping rope, playing hopscotch, skipping, and weight-bearing sports like tennis or gymnastics.

Globally in the U.S., 76% of our children and youth are not getting enough daily physical activity. Factors that affect participation levels include gender – 35% of high school boys, but only 18% of high school girls report participating in the required daily physical activity level.

Age – children 6-11 years participate in more daily physical activity (88 minutes) compared to adolescents aged 12-15 years (33 minutes) and 16-19 years (26 minutes).

Ability – children with mobility issues may engage in less physical activity than those without limitations.

Other factors – like living in high versus low crime areas, not all park being safe, and physical education requirements decreasing by grade level – are just a few more reasons for the activity decline in our kids.

The 2018 U.S. Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, developed by the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance Partners, assesses the levels of physical activity and sedentary behaviors in American children and youth, facilitators, and barriers for physical activity, and health outcomes.

According to the Alliance Partner’s committee chairman, Peter T. Katzmarzyk, PhD, Professor and Marie Edana Cocoran Endowed Chair in Pediatric Obesity and Diabetes, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, “in the absence of large-scale interventions or social change (like we saw for smoking), the majority of our kids will remain inactive.”

Katzmarzyk qualifies his comment by noting that, “only about 24% of kids are currently meeting the (activity) guidelines, and this has remained unchanged for several years (i.e. there is no upward trend evident). Thus, if you were to make a prediction about this, you would say that there really is no indication that this will change.”

From a global standpoint, “researchers around the world are struggling with what exactly is required to turn this around. If we knew the answer, we would be half way there,” commented Katzmarzyk.

“It’s important,” says the Pennington researcher, “that schools provide adequate opportunities for physical activity – before school, during recess, after school, and also having activity breaks during the day – in addition to proving support for active transportation (traffic calming, bike racks, etc.).” In addition, “municipalities also need to provide more support for active transportation from bike paths and opportunities for organized sports, while also maintaining parks and sidewalks.”

As for the activity level of kids in Louisiana, Katzmarzyk recognizes that, “Louisiana kids are not immune to these national trends. Actually, Louisiana leads the way in the percentage of kids who watch excessive amounts of TV (28.7% in Louisiana versus 20.7% nationally). Also, 35.3% of our kids are getting the recommended levels of activity, versus 46.5% of kids nationally.”

The solution starts with the family model – with family members and peers as important role models for several health behaviors, including physical activity.

However, the committee chairman states, “as you can imagine, it is difficult to collect national statistics on whether or not parents are being role models for their children when it comes to physical activity. We know that in general, adults are quite less active overall than children are. Physical activity levels plummet during adolescence and then remain low as adults.”

Nike is correct. Just do it! – Now.