American children have been found to become much more inactive with age, concluded a 6-year study published in the July 16 Journal of the American Medical Association. While in this day and age this is to be expected, the extent of the sluggishness is eye-opening. The study tracked 1000 children from 2000 to 2006, and measured the amount of activity this cohort engaged in. About 90% of the children got a couple hours of exercise on most days when they were 9-years old. By the time this same group of children were 15-years old, only 3% got this same level of exercise on a regular basis. Fewer than one-third of 15-year old children got the minimum amount of exercise recommended by the government, which is one hour of moderate to vigorous activity.
Physical inactivity is linked with greater risks for many health problems, including heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. It is well publicized how there is a near epidemic of child obesity for American children, and the dramatic results of this study seems to suggest why we see so many children with more mature health problems. Because of this, it is so important that state Boards of Education maintain physical education requirements at all levels of public education, and that local school boards and administrations insist on maintaining quality health and physical education programs. I know some districts have reduced their PE programs in order to free funds and time for test prep required by No Child Left Behind, but this is another example of the importance of providing a 'well-rounded' education and set of experiences that will help develop good life skills and habits, and requires us to get out of a 'all test all the time' mentality in the public school system. It is also a time when parents need to step up and get their children physically active. In my mind, there is no good reason for 5 and 7 year olds to have televisions in their bedrooms, or allow whole summer vacations spent playing the latest video games, which many children effectively do. Schools cannot replace parents for something like this, especially during the summers. But this is an important issue, which can also help with new efforts in preventative health care; a little physical activity and common sense today with young children leads to fewer long-term health issues, and may in fact reduce health care costs for everyone years from now. We'll see how seriously Americans take these threats.