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Children less fit than their parents

Children less fit than their parents
November 22, 2013

A global fitness survey has revealed that many children cannot run as fast as their parents could when they were young.

The study, presented this week at the American Heart Association's annual meeting by lead researcher Dr Grant Tomkinson of the University of South Australia suggests children's fitness levels are declining and concludes that children globally are not as fit as their parents were at the same age.

Presenting his analyses of data spanning 46 years and involving more than 25 million children in 28 countries, covering millions of distance-running tests by children, Dr Tomkinson says average childhood fitness has declined by 15% internationally since 1975 with on average, children today running a mile 90 seconds slower than their counterparts did 30 years ago.

Across nations, cardiovascular endurance - gauged by how far children can run in a set time - has dwindled consistently by about 5% every decade, according to the findings.

The decline is seen in boys and girls and across all ages from nine to 17 years, and is linked to obesity, with some countries faring worse than others.

The problem is largely one of Western countries, but some parts of Asia like South Korea, mainland China and Hong Kong are also seeing this phenomenon.

Dr Tomkinson attributes the decline to an emphasis on pleasurable play and sedentary activities such as computer gaming, stating "with that focus they're not always getting enough of the huff-and-puff or the vigorous exercise that makes them slightly or somewhat tired.

"It's really important that we engage children not only during physical education but before school and after school as part of team sports or individual sports after school or on the weekend.

"If a young person is generally unfit now then they are more likely to develop conditions like heart disease later in life."

Dr Tomkinson said the issue was most prevalent in western countries and could be linked with obesity, but was also becoming more evident in parts of Asia.

He added "about 30 to 60% of the declines in endurance running performance can be explained by increases in fat mass."

Dr Tomkinson said children needed to be inspired and encouraged to do more vigorous exercise.

If not, the public health consequences could be dire.

Researchers suggest that to stay healthy, children and young people need to do at least an hour of physical activity - such as walking or cycling to school and running in the playground - every day.

Image courtesy of Les Mills International.

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