Covid Continues to Exacerbate the Physical Inactivity Crisis Among Our Youth
By Ken Reed
There have been a lot of stories about how Covid-19, and the move to home-schooling it caused, has resulted in our kids falling behind academically. Indeed, that’s a real problem.
However, an equally important negative impact of Covid on our youth is the physical inactivity epidemic it has fed.
For years, our children have become less and less active. Even before Covid, fewer than 20 percent of children and adolescents, 6 to 19, met the recommended 60 or more minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity at least five times a week, according to the CDC.
The CDC has also reported that only 7% of children ages 6-11 and 5% of those ages 12-19 were obese in 1980. But by 2014, those numbers had increased to 17.5% and 20.5% respectively. That trend only worsened during the Covid pandemic.
There have been many reasons cited for this inactivity: The proliferation of video games and social media, cutbacks in physical education and recess time, smaller or no backyards in newer housing developments, parents driving their kids to school instead of having them walk or ride a bike, a drop in organized sports participation, etc. The list of causes is a long one, with Covid being the most prominent the last couple years.
When Covid-19 hit, kids and their parents were told to stay home, youth sports shut down, video game and social media use went up among children and adolescents, and most schools went to remote learning. The result? The physical activity levels of young people dropped to all-time lows. A Nationwide Children’s Hospital study found only 5% of children were meeting the 60-minute daily exercise goal.
The benefits of physical activity for our young people are numerous. The Aspen Institute reported in October 2021 that active kids are one-tenth as likely to be obese, have up to 40% higher academic test scores, are less likely to smoke or use illegal drugs, are more likely to go to college, have less depression, go on to earn 7-8% more annually, have less illness during their lifetime and have one-third the rate of disability.
If exercise were a pill, it would be called a miracle drug.
In 2014, University of Illinois researcher Dr. Chuck Hillman used an MRI to study the brains of 9-and-10-year-olds while they took a test. One group had exercised for 20 minutes prior to the test, while the other group sat quietly. The exercisers’ brains displayed far more brain activity and those kids scored higher on the test.
He led a similar study in 2009, employing an EEG instead of an MRI. The results were the same. In 2012, Hillman and his colleagues published a longitudinal study that found aerobic fitness predicted cognitive performance a year later.
Given Hillman’s research, perhaps the best way for children and adolescents to catch up academically post-Covid is to boost their exercise levels.
Here’s the reality of the situation: Our children are on pace to be significantly more overweight and obese than their parents by the time they reach adulthood. That could lead to higher rates of what some researchers are calling Sedentary Death Syndrome (SDS).
The pandemic has ramped up the urgency to get our kids moving. Schools need to increase hours spent in physical education and on recess. Parents need to encourage their kids to put down their phones and video games and go outside and play. Increased youth sports participation and other forms of physical activity are also part of the solution. Bicycle use by children continues to trend down. That needs to be reversed.
Covid-19 has made our children and adolescents heavier and less active. As a society, we are called to get creative in finding new ways to increase their activity levels.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman, and has a long involvement with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport (now called the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition). We discuss the state of college athletics today, given the pressures of NIL, the transfer portal, sports gambling and huge media contracts. McMillen then provides great perspective on the poor state of physical fitness our young people are experiencing today.
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Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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