High School Students Are Exercising Less, Federal Study Finds

November 16, 1994 4 min read

High school students are apparently exercising less than in the past, and more than a third say they watch television or play video games three or more hours every school day, a federal study has found.

More than one-third of high school students--37 percent--say they exercise vigorously and regularly, according to researchers at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But about an equal proportion--35 percent--spend at least three hours daily in front of the television or playing video games.

A 1984 national survey found that 61.7 percent of students in grades 10 through 12 exercised hard and regularly--20 or more minutes three or more days a week. Though not exactly comparable, the figures indicate an overall decline, the study’s authors say.

The new study appears in the November issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

“Adolescents are adopting the patterns of their parents” and are becoming sedentary creatures of a commuter society, Gregory W. Heath, an epidemiologist and principal author of the study, said in an interview.

The authors drew their conclusions from analysis of the 1990 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a questionnaire that 11,631 high school students filled out in 124 schools nationwide.

The researchers found that nearly half of the boys exercised vigorously--such as jogging, fast bicycling, fast dancing, or playing basketball--three or more times a week, while only about one-fourth of the girls did.

Younger girls were more likely to be active than older ones. Nearly 31 percent of female 9th graders said they were vigorously active, while 23.4 percent of juniors and just 17.3 percent of seniors were as active.

Boys’ activity did not vary by grade, and the proportion of girls who were vigorously active was less than that of boys in every race and grade category.

Mr. Heath said that as girls advance through school, the increasing importance of competitive athletics and the growing number of other social and extracurricular activities may work against their participation in vigorous exercise.

The authors say the physical inactivity among black female students is of particular concern. Black girls were the least-active group and watched the most television.

Most high school students watch some television--70 percent watch at least an hour a day--although the proportion watching three or more hours daily declines as students get older, the researchers found.

In addition, the study revealed that almost half of 9th- through 12th-grade students were not enrolled in physical-education classes, and only 21.5 percent of students attended p.e. classes daily.

Of students who had attended at least one such class during the preceding two weeks, almost one-fourth did not exercise 20 minutes or more during any class.

Girls were more likely than boys not to exercise at least 20 minutes during gym class.

Norplant Beats the Pill: Adolescent mothers who chose the Norplant contraception method over the birth-control pill were much less likely to become pregnant again within a year, a study out this month has found.

The girls’ choice of a contraceptive did not seem to affect their use of health-care services, sexual activity, use of condoms, or rate of sexually transmitted diseases, according to the study in the Nov. 3 New England Journal of Medicine.

The users of Norplant, which is surgically implanted under the skin, reported high rates of satisfaction and willingness to recommend it to others. Girls using oral contraceptives, however, had low rates of satisfaction.

The researchers studied 98 teenage mothers who gave birth at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in 1991 and 1992. Forty-eight chose Norplant and 50 chose the pill. Most were single, black, poor, and lived in single-parent households.

School and Leukemia: Adult survivors of childhood leukemia seem able to overcome school difficulties caused by their disease, a new study says.

The researchers examined the first group of children to survive a certain type of leukemia, childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia, who lived long enough to complete their educations.

The study compared the 593 young adults with 409 of their healthy siblings.

Leukemia survivors over all had the same rate of high school graduation as their brothers and sisters, says the article in the Nov. 9 Journal of the American Medical Association.

Those who graduated from high school also entered college in the same proportions as their siblings, and the proportion who earned bachelor’s degrees was also similar.

Such similarities existed even though the cancer survivors were more likely to have been enrolled in special-education or learning-disabled programs, to have repeated a year of school, and to have been out of school for an extended period of time.

However, the study found that children whose leukemia was diagnosed at a very young age, or those who received higher doses of radiation during treatment, were less likely than their siblings to attend college.

--Millicent Lawton

A version of this article appeared in the November 16, 1994 edition of Education Week as High School Students Are Exercising Less, Federal Study Finds