Student Well-Being

Study Disputes View of U.S. Youths As Inactive

By Darcia Harris Bowman — September 26, 2001 2 min read
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Despite a widespread perception that today’s children don’t get enough exercise, a new study concludes that most American young people exceed the federal recommendations for daily physical activity.

Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo analyzed 26 separate studies from 12 different countries in which a total of 1,883 children and adolescents, ages 3 to 17, wore heart monitors to determine their activity levels. The study included 548 American children, but the researchers found little difference in activity levels between countries.

Read “How Much Activity Do Youth Get? A Quantitative Review of Heart-Rate Measured Activity,” from the American Academy of Pediatrics. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Researchers found young people of those ages were moderately active at least 30 minutes a day, and all had a minimum of 60 minutes of low-intensity activity per day, based on readings of their heart rates. While the youths’ activity may not be enough to produce increased aerobic fitness, the researchers say, “these intensities are far from the image of a television-watching couch potato and very sedentary children.”

Beyond that, “what we found is that most children are exceeding the daily recommendations, so we perhaps need to rethink the guidelines,” said James N. Roemmich, an assistant professor of pediatrics at SUNY-Buffalo and a co-author of the report.

Still, experts point to evidence that far too many children are not in good physical shape. For example, 13 percent of U.S. children ages 6 to 11 and 14 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 19 were overweight in 1999, according to national health statistics.

The common perception is that today’s children are not physically active. But a study suggests that American youngsters are exceeding federal recommendations for physical activity.
—Benjamin Tice Smith for Education Week

Experts say American children are getting heavier because they spend too much time sitting and watching television after school and on weekends, eat too much junk food, and tend to be less physically active than earlier generations. (“Food for Thought,” Feb. 17, 1999.)

To encourage more physical activity, the Indianapolis-based American College of Sports Medicine recommended in 1990 three to five sessions of 20 to 60 minutes of continuous, high-intensity physical activity per week for adults and children.

But few U.S. adults or children were meeting the original guidelines, and new research prompted the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the ACSM in 1998 to advise that adults and children older than 2 years accumulate 30 minutes of at least moderate physical activity almost every day.

“Children weren’t meeting the original guidelines because, if you think about it, children don’t exercise—they play,” Mr. Roemmich said. “Children don’t plan to go out and run for 40 minutes or ride their bikes for 30 minutes. Their activity is less structured.”

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