x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Extensive global study finds kids today are less fit than their parents

Study of millions of children around the world has found that they do not run as fast or as far as their parents did when they were young.

DALLAS // These days, it is children who cannot keep up with their parents.

An analysis of studies on millions of children around the world has found that they do not run as fast or as far as their parents did when they were young.

On average, it takes children 90 seconds longer to run a mile — 1.6 kilometres — than their counterparts did 30 years ago. Heart-related fitness has declined 5 per cent per decade since 1975 for children between nine and 17.

The findings were discussed this week at a conference of the American Heart Association, which said it is the first to show that children’s fitness has declined worldwide over the past three decades.

“It makes sense. We have kids that are less active than before,” said Dr Stephen Daniels, a University of Colorado paediatrician and spokesman for the heart association.

World Health Organisation numbers suggest that 80 per cent of young people globally may not be getting enough exercise.

Health experts recommend that children six and older get 60 minutes of moderately vigorous activity accumulated over a day. Only one-third of American kids do now.

The new study was led by Grant Tomkinson, an exercise physiologist at the University of South Australia. Researchers analysed 50 studies on running fitness — a key measure of cardiovascular health and endurance — involving 25 million children from ages nine to 17 in 28 countries from 1964 to 2010.

The studies measured how far children could run in five to 15 minutes and how quickly they ran a certain distance, ranging from 800 metres to 3200 metres. Today’s children are about 15 per cent less fit than their parents were, the researchers concluded.

“The changes are very similar for boys and girls and also for various ages,” Mr Tomkinson said. But they differed by geographic region, he said.

The decline in fitness seems to be levelling off in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and, perhaps in the past few years, in North America. It has continued to fall in China, while in Japan there has been little drop — fitness has remained fairly consistent there. About 20 million of the 25 million children in the studies were from Asia.

In China, annual fitness test data showed the country’s students were getting slower and fatter over the past couple of decades.

Experts and educators blamed an obsession with academic testing scores for China’s competitive college admissions, and a proliferation of indoor entertainment options such as gaming and web surfing, for the decline.

China’s education ministry data showed that in 2010 male college students ran 1,000 metres 14 to 15 seconds slower on average than male students a decade earlier. Female students slowed by about 12 seconds in running 800 metres.

Motoaki Nito, of the sports and youth bureau at Japan’s ministry of education, culture, sports, science and technology, said there had been a decline in physical fitness among youth since the 1980s.

To turn that around, the government has urged municipalities and schools to promote youth fitness. Mr Nito said that this had resulted in a gradual increase of physical strength, which, while not equal to levels seen in the 1980s, had reversed the trend.

Mr Tomkinson and Dr Daniels said obesity may play a role, since it makes it harder to run or do aerobic exercise. Too much time watching television and playing video games and unsafe neighbourhoods with not enough options for outdoor play also may be responsible, they said.

* Associated Press