By Ken Reed

Research coming out the American Heart Association conference on Tuesday revealed a depressing picture: Worldwide, kids are slower and less fit today than their parents were when they were young.

“It makes sense,” said Dr. Stephen Daniels, a University of Colorado pediatrician. “We have kids that are less active than before.”

Researchers examined 50 studies involving cardiovascular fitness and endurance. The studies were done on children ages 9 to 17 in 28 countries from 1964 to 2010. Overall, the researchers concluded that today’s kids are 15 percent less fit than their parents were. The negative changes were very similar for boys and girls.

“We are currently facing the most sedentary generation of children in our history,” said Sam Kass, head of first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program.

To put the findings in perspective, it takes today’s children 90 seconds longer to run a mile than their parents did 30 years ago. Overall, heart-related fitness has dropped about five percent per decade since 1975 for children ages 9 to 17.

There are many reasons for the findings, but they all revolve around the increasingly sedentary lifestyles our children lead today. Kids spend too much time on the couch with smartphones, iPads, computers, video games and television shows. Bicycles for kids are becoming a thing of the past (How many bike racks do you see at schools today?). Due to safety concerns, many parents don’t let their kids play outside, unless they’re confined to ever-shrinking backyards.

However, one of the major reasons for the poor physical state of our children is the decline in physical education. Once part of a daily school routine, many kids don’t have physical education class at all anymore in our school systems. Many educators point to the academic pressures they face from the No Child Left Behind law and the annual academic assessment exams prevalent in virtually every state. Nevertheless, research consistently shows that fit kids perform better academically, have fewer behavioral problems, and are healthier overall. Thirty minutes of cardiovascular exercise will improve test performance more than an extra half-hour of seat time in a math or science class.

These research findings cry out for daily, cardiovascular-based, physical education for all our children in grades K-12. If we avoid that path, our nation’s healthcare costs for obesity-related diseases such as diabetes will skyrocket in the coming decades.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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