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Children running slower than parents

A study reported in November 2013 at the American Heart Association's annual conference that kids today are running more slowly than their parents did in the early 1980s.

NIH researchers show 74% of 10,000 students' charted physical activity, screen time and diet  unhealthy.
National Institute of Health

Specifically, kids today run a mile a minute and a half slower based on 50 running fitness studies from 1964 to 2010. In other words, children aged 9 to 17 years take 90 seconds longer to run a mile than children did 30 years ago. Researchers found that globally children's heart fitness dropped about five percent every ten years since 1975. In the United States, it fell an average six percent per decade from 1970 to 2000.

Dr. Grant Tomkinson, exercise physiologist at University of South Australia, led the study which involved 25 million children ages 9 to 17 in 28 countries from 1964 to 2010. It measured how far children could run in 5 to 15 minutes and how quickly they ran a distance ranging from half a mile to two miles. The conclusion: "Today's kids are about 15 percent less fit than their parents were."

Some of the reasons theorized are

  • very likely obesity plays a role, making it harder to do any aerobic exercise like running. Tomkinson says, "In fact, about 30% to 60% of the declines in endurance running performance can be explained by increases in fat mass."
  • too much time is spent in front of televisions and video games
  • unsafe neighborhoods where kids must stay indoors
  • not enough options for outdoor play area; suburbanization and lack of green space
  • poor role models since most everyone they know have the same bad habits
  • changes in school physical education programs
  • global decline in basic activity.

Per the World Health Organization numbers, about 80 percent of the young in the world are not getting enough exercise. Children need at least one hour of physical activity like walking, running or cycling every day to remain healthy. Tomkinson says that exercise must be something that "makes you sweat" and is "sustained and dynamic".

In an different United States study in the Journal of Adolescent Health in summer 2013, National Institute of Health researchers found only about half of adolescents are physically active five or more days a week, and less than one-third eat fruits and vegetables daily. Thirty-nine states with about 10,000 children aged 11 to 16 were surveyed. Bruce Simons-Morton with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development said, "the average young person is sedentary, has very little physical activity, and low levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity."

Read the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guide for more information on physical activity needed by children.

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