By Morgan Jones
Childhood obesity has gotten plenty of attention, but are behaviors that may prevent it really changing? A new report explored the state of physical activity among US youth.
The report examined a variety of aspects of the physical activity levels of American children and teens, and found mixed results.
The report found that only about a quarter of children meet the recommended guidelines for daily physical activity levels.
This new report — the "2014 U.S. Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth" — was produced by the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance (NPAPA), a non-profit organization.
The report considered a variety of factors, including overall physical activity, sedentary behaviors, active transportation methods and organized sports participation. Numerous data sources were used, including the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the National Household Travel Survey and the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.
According to NPAPA, the US 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that children between the ages of 6 and 15 get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity five days of the week. However, the report found that overall, only around a quarter of these children (25 percent) are meeting this recommendation.
When looking at certain age groups, it seemed that younger kids were faring better — an estimated 42 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 met this requirement, while the same was true for only 8 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 15.
Sedentary behavior, or time spent sitting or reclining and not exerting much energy, was also explored in the report. NPAPA noted that high levels of sedentary behavior have been indicated as a risk factor for a number of chronic diseases. The report estimated that on average, US children spend more than seven hours a day on sedentary activities, a number that increases as they get older.
Some organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), recommend that children have two hours or less of "screen time" each day. Screen time is time spent watching television, playing video games or using the computer. The report found that overall, around half (53.5 percent) of kids in the US between the ages of 6 and 11 met these recommendations.
The researchers found that this measure varied by ethnicity, with an estimated 61.7 percent of Hispanic children, 55.4 percent of white children and 36.7 percent of African American children meeting this guideline of two hours or less of screen time.
According to NPAPA, the percentage of elementary and middle school students who got to school through "active transportation" — like walking or biking — fell from about 47.7 percent in 1969 to 12.7 percent in 2009.
However, the report did estimate that over half (58.4 percent) of US youth participated in at least one organized sports team, though participation was lower among girls than boys (52.6 percent versus 64 percent).
"We hope the Report Card will galvanize researchers, health professionals, community members, and policy makers across the U.S. to improve our children’s physical activity opportunities, which will improve health, prevent disease and disability, and enhance quality of life," NPAPA wrote.
In an interview with dailyRx News, Jim Crowell, owner and head trainer at Integrated Fitness in Pittsburgh, explained that motivating kids to exercise requires personalized methods that speak directly to children.
"I always want to help kids understand what they want to accomplish the most. That helps them begin to understand what they really value the most highly. For those kids who value athletics, my job is easy because I can help them understand how being more active and healthy will benefit their sport," Crowell explained.
"For those kids who value things outside of athletics, I work to help them understand why better nutrition and more quality exercise will help them even if they don't see direct correlation on the surface. If a kid wants to win a spelling bee, I explain that a more quality diet can help them learn information and retain it better," he said.
"If a kid values video games, I try to understand why they value them so much. Many kids value the competitiveness or the social aspects of video games. I try to show them that they can have far more enriching experiences and much stronger friendships when they can incorporate face to face interactions and competitions," Crowell said.
"Of course, kids don't always buy in right away, but many of the toughest kids will buy in as they see these results start to come, so stay patient and keep helping them understand why a more healthy lifestyle benefits them direct and currently," Crowell told dailyRx News.
Further research is needed to confirm the findings of the report card and continue to explore the various aspects of the physical activity levels of American children.
This NPAPA report was released April 29.