The Effects of the Decline of Physical Activity

At one time kids spent their free time riding bikes and playing outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine. But these days games of tag and hide-and-go-seek have been replaced with video games and other “sports” kids can play while sitting in a chair. These games may stimulate kids mentally, but it does little to stem the rising tide of childhood obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of childhood obesity has doubled in the past 30 years, and lack of physical activity plays a major role. Simply put, kids are not getting enough exercise.

Childhood Activity is on the Decline
What are the reasons that little Suzy and John are not active enough these days? Technology, parents and schools all share the blame for the lack of physical fitness and the rapid rise in childhood obesity. Like adults, kids are more sedentary thanks to advances in technology.

The rise of computers and video games has made it easy for kids to be entertained without ever leaving the comfort of their easy chair. With the exception of some of the new video games where kids exercise while playing them, computer games don’t burn many calories or increase physical fitness.”

Kids don’t even have to walk to each other’s house to socialize these days; they can send text messages instead. Then there’s the allure of the television set. The first things some kids do when they come home from school is to park themselves in front of the “boob tube” where they’re glued until dinnertime, snacking while they watch their favorite television shows.

Kids are walking to school less these days too, and there are some good reasons for that. Many parents are concerned about their kids’ safety. Kids also live further from school than they did 30 years ago. The calories children burn walking to school add up. According to one study, kids between the ages of 6 and 8 who walked to school lowered their BMI (body mass index) significantly over a 3 year period.

Schools play a role in the rise of childhood obesity too. School physical education programs in many areas have been cut due to lack of funding. According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 75% of high school students don’t participate in physical education classes. This lack of emphasis on P.E. encourages kids to be less active, a habit they’ll carry into adulthood.

How Lack of Physical Activity Affects Kids
Kids who are inactive have a greater risk of being overweight or obese. Overweight and obese kids are more likely to have health problems that were once almost exclusively the domain of adults. Type 2 diabetes, a disease once uncommon in kids, is now diagnosed with increasing frequency among inactive and overweight kids of today. Obese and overweight kids are also at higher risk for heart disease, fatty liver disease and depression. This pattern of inactivity often follows them into adulthood and increases their risk for chronic health problems. Is this a burden we want our children to deal with?

What Can Parents and Schools Do to Help Kids Be More Active?
Parents need to take a more active role in keeping kids moving. Parents should restrict the amount of television and computer time kids have access to and encourage them to participate in sports and other calorie-burning activities. One way to do this is to require kids to participate in the sport of their choosing, whether it be swimming, tennis, soccer, gymnastic or some other activity. Parents can also lobby schools to add more physical education to the curriculum.

Parents can motivate kids to be more active by staying active themselves. Activities such as family walks and bike rides help the whole family be more healthy and active. Parents can find little ways to keep kids moving by encouraging them to walk the dog or run household errands. Other ideas are to give kids “activity points” they can redeem for things they enjoy.

Keeping kids active is important not only for their short-term health but for establishing a life-long pattern of health living. Get them off of the couch and out into the yard where they can enjoy the sunshine – and better healthy.

References:
CNN Health. “Who’s Walking to School?”
CDC. “Physical Activity among Children Ages 9 to 13”
Medscape J Med. 2008; 10(6): 145.

About Dr. Kristie

Dr. Kristie is a medical doctor with a concentration in family practice. She has an undergraduate degree in both Biology and Psychology, as well Master’s Degree in Clinical Pathology. She is a frequent contributor to the Angel Heart Foundation.

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