By Annie Hauser
Amish children are more physically active than non-Amish children, perhaps providing long-term protection against type 2 diabetes, University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers write in Diabetes Care.
When Amish children in Lancaster County, Pa., were compared to non-Amish white children who live in nearby rural communities, researchers found that Amish children were twice as physically active, spending 34 more minutes a day in light physical activity, plus 53 more minutes a day in moderate to vigorous physical activity. Higher activity levels were also correlated to lower body mass indexes, a commonly used obesity measure.
Earlier research indicates that while Amish adults are just as obese and non-Amish Americans, they have half the rates of type 2 diabetes. Lead researcher Soren Snitker, MD, PhD, says that this new study suggests that the Amish gain weight later in life, which might decrease their long-term diabetes risk. The number of years someone is obese is a risk factor for diabetes, regardless of a person's age, researchers explain, which is why as non-Amish American childhood obesity rates soar, so have rates of type 2 diabetes among teens and 20-somethings.
All Americans can learn from the Amish, Snitker says, and focus on becoming more physically active. "We may be able to learn something from the attitudes of the Amish," he said in a release. "Whether children are physically active or not depends a lot on choices their parents make. Do they facilitate physically demanding activities for their children or do they allow them to spend long hours playing electronic games or watching television?"
Because the Lancaster County, Pa., Amish avoid elements of modern life, including electricity and cars, and live in rural areas, they stay active through walking to school, playing with their friends, and working around the house or on the farm. Unlike the non-Amish rural children in the study, the Amish do not use computers, televisions, or electronic games, which cuts down on sedentary time significantly.
"The Amish lifestyle affects the whole family, involving Old Order Amish (OOA) children in household or farming chores from an early age," the researchers say. "OOA children also seem to spend a substantial amount of time in outdoor play with their siblings and neighbors, facilitated by the large size of the OOA Amish nuclear family ... OOA children attend one-room school houses and almost always go outside for recess. Even the youngest OOA students use active transportation to get to school, generally walking in a group."
To contrast, non-Amish American children almost always travel to school by bus or car, and spend hours a day in front of TVs, computers, and video games. Numerous studies have linked less TV time to a healthier weight, better attention span, and even longer life.