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Are the Next Generations Active Enough?

Anyone who has tried to sit through dinner with wiggly young children can see that the human body is made to move. Making sure kids and teenagers keep moving, despite the constraints of dinner time, school, screens, and our sedentary culture, can help set good habits for life. Physical activity among American kids and teenagers is alarmingly low, according to a new study.

More than half of teenagers, half of 6 to 11-year-old-girls and 25% of 6 to 11-year-old boys don’t meet the World Health Organization’s recommendations for at least an hour of moderate to vigorous activity a day. And the average activity of 19 year-olds is similar to that of 60-year-olds! The researchers emphasize that all physical activity matters, not just the heart-pounding variety. Too little physical activity among children now and later will translate into heart attacks, diabetes, cancer, and billions of dollars of avoidable health care costs.

Physical activity is a key contributor to current and future health. It helps kids maintain a healthy weight and also improves bone and muscle strength, circulation, mental health, and many other aspects of health.  Being overweight or obese can lead to a variety of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. It’s not the only thing that helps kids stay at a healthy weight – but it plays a big role.

Sadly, physical activity among children is decreasing rather than increasing: too much time on smartphones, computers, and television; too few physical education classes; declining participation in sports; more time riding in cars than walking or riding bikes.

If you’re a kid, or a parent of one, this should definitely matter to you. But it also matters if you aren’t a parent, or your young ones are grown and healthy. Overweight and obesity among children, which almost always stays with them as they become adults, cost everyone a lot of money. Insurance spreads others’ medical costs among everyone who pays for insurance or pays taxes. Lost productivity hurts businesses, which hurts the economy, which hurts all of us.

The good news is that even relatively small increases in children’s physical activity levels can improve long-term health and reduce health care costs. All of us can help kids keep moving. Build in family exercise or sports time, serve as a good example and exercise yourself, encourage kids to walk or run rather than ride in cars, and realize that play time is as important as any other time.

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