Children and physical activity

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
July 15, 2008 3:31:12 PM PDT
When we think of childhood, many of us think of running, jumping and playing outdoors. But as children grow up, that is happening less and less.The issue is physical activity. All of us need it, and the more we get, the healthier we tend to be. But now, a new study finds that as children are growing, they're getting into a not very good habit - inactivity.

Too many kids these days spend their summer playing video games or on the computer, when instead they should be enjoying the great outdoors.

"My friends and I like to go to the movies," 15-year-old Danielle Pupa said. "And we also like to go on MySpace together, and we'll spend hours at a time on the computer talking to each other."

Children should be getting a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day, but according to Dr. Philip Nader, a pediatrician with the University of California, San Diego, some are not.

"The bad news is that it is bad news," Dr. Nader said.

Dr. Nader led a team of researchers who followed more than 1,000 children from 2000 through 2006. The children wore an activity monitor around their waist that tracked their level of usual activity for about a week a year at ages 9, 11, 12 and 15.

"I was kind of surprised at the sharpness of the decline and how the amount of activity just kept getting smaller and smaller as the children got older," Dr. Nader said.

At 9 years old, children engaged in three hours of moderate to vigorous activity per day on both weekdays and weekends. But each year, that activity decreased. By the time they were 15, participants only engaged in about 49 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity on weekdays and about 35 minutes a day on the weekend, both below the recommended guidelines. The study appears in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"I think it's probably due to the environment that's not supporting activity," Dr. Nader said.

Researchers believe factors such as increased traffic, neighborhoods with fewer parks and cuts in school recess can have an impact.

"We like to play video games about four or five hours a day," Nick Pupa said.

The concern is the potential for childhood obesity and a host of health problems children could possibly face into adulthood if the trend is not reversed.

Both boys and girls dropped below the recommended guidelines for physical activity by the time they were about 12 or 13. Researchers say the findings should be a call to action for parents, physicians and healthcare providers to do their part to make sure children are meeting the guidelines for physical activity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, activities such as playing tag, jumping rope, swimming or a brisk walk are examples of activities children can choose as long as the activity adds up to at least an hour a day.


STORY BY: Dr. Jay Adlersberg