Today’s kids less fit than their parents were


A 5K Fun Run for Girls on the Run of Montgomery County this month in Bethesda. Research finds that children today are less fit than their parents were at the same age. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
November 24, 2013

Today’s kids can’t keep up with their parents. An analysis of studies on millions of children around the world finds they don’t run as fast or as far as their parents did when they were young.

On average, it takes children 90 seconds longer to run a mile than kids did 30 years ago. Heart-related fitness has declined 5 percent per decade since 1975 for children ages 9 to 17.

The American Heart Association, whose conference featured the research last week, says this is the first report that children’s fitness has declined worldwide over the past three decades.

“It makes sense. We have kids that are less active than before,” said Stephen Daniels, a University of Colorado pediatrician and spokesman for the Heart Association.

Health experts recommend that children age 6 and older get 60 minutes of moderately vigorous activity each day. Only one-third of American kids do now.

“Kids aren’t getting enough opportunities to build up that activity over the course of the day,” Daniels said. “Many schools . . . don’t have any physical education at all. Some rely on recess” to provide exercise.

The new study was led by Grant Tomkinson, an exercise physiologist at the University of South Australia. Researchers analyzed 50 studies on running fitness — a key measure of cardiovascular health and endurance — involving 25 million children ages 9 to 17 in 28 countries from 1964 to 2010.

The studies measured how far children could run in five to 15 minutes and how quickly they ran a certain distance, ranging from half a mile to two miles. Today’s kids are about 15 percent less fit than their parents were, researchers concluded.

“The changes are very similar for boys and girls and also for various ages,” but they differed by geographic region, Tomkinson said.

The decline in fitness seems to be leveling off in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and perhaps in the last few years in North America. However, it continues to fall in China. In Japan, fitness has remained fairly consistent in the past three decades. About 20 million of the 25 million children in the studies were from Asia.

Tomkinson and Daniels said obesity probably plays a role, since it makes it harder to run or do aerobic exercise. Too much time watching television and playing video games and unsafe neighborhoods with not enough options for outdoor play also may play a role, they said.

Associated Press

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