Monthly Archives: July 2014

Physical Activity Report Card for American Kids

Chuck Corbin, Ph.D.,
Professor Emeritus, Arizona State University

In 2008 the United States Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) appointed a committee of national experts to revise existing physical activity guidelines to include recommended amounts of physical activity for people of all ages (http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines). The guidelines for children recommended: (1) performing 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity daily, (2) performing daily activity that is mostly moderate or vigorous aerobic activity, (3) performing vigorous physical activity at least 3 days a week, (4) performing muscle fitness (that also builds bones) activity on at least 3 days a week, and (5) participating in age appropriate and a variety of enjoyable activities, with encouragement from family.

In 2009 a coalition of partners from a wide variety of organizations, including those from medicine, physical education, health, government, and business, prepared a National Physical Activity Plan. The plan was designed to “allow more Americans to realize the recommendations made in the 2008 activity physical activity guidelines (http://www.physicalactivityplan.org/faq.php). After the national plan was developed, the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance (NPAPA) was formed to help carry out the plan. Last week the NPAPA, in cooperation with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America) released the 2014 US Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. The Report Card uses an A-F scale (with Incomplete ratings for some areas). Here are the grades.

Overall physical activity for children and youth, Grade = D-. Only 25% of youth 12-15 meet the national guideline of 60 minutes of activity per day. On average, youth spend only 19 minutes in moderate to vigorous activity daily. Youth do, however, spend 350 minutes per day in light physical activity. Performing light activity is better than no activity, but does not provide the health benefits of moderate to vigorous activity. Younger children are more active than older youth and boys are more active than girls.

Sedentary behaviors of youth, Grade = D. Youth spend too much time sitting, often viewing a screen (e.g., computer game, phone, TV). No national guideline exists for screen time, but the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests limiting screen time (for youth) to 2 hours per day or less. About half of youth meet the guideline. The report indicates that there are ethnic disparities in screen time (e.g., only 37% of African Americans meet the guideline).Active Transportation, Grade = F. Most American youth do not walk or ride a bike to school and the percentage has decreased significantly in recent years.

Organized Sport Participation, Grade = C-. More than half of youth participate in an organized sport. More boys participate than girls and more children participate than teens. However, organized sport participation decreases in the teen years.

Active Play, Grade = INC. Comprehensive research evidence is not available to adequately provide a grade for active play. Slightly less than 60% of elementary school youth have an active recess. Studies show that increasing recess time increases activity time of youth.

Health-Related Physical Fitness, Grade = INC. The most recent national studies of the fitness of American youth were done in the mid 1980s. So it is impossible to rate the current health-related fitness of our youth. A recent report of the Institute of Medicine provides evidence that good fitness is associated with good health in youth and is associated with improved academic performance.

Family and Peers, Grade = INC. We know that children with active parents are 6 times more likely to be active than children of non-active parents. Most parents say they encourage activity for their kids, however less than half say they are active with their kids. Having active friends is associated with being active. More research is needed before a grade can be assigned.

School, Grade = C-. Most youth go to school so school provides a great opportunity for youth to be active. Kids who take PE are more likely to meet national activity guidelines and to have good health-related fitness than those who don’t. Elementary school kids are more likely to have PE, than secondary school youth. When PE is taught by a certified PE teacher youth activity is increased. Nevertheless, untrained teachers frequently “teach” PE. PE has decreased in recent years in many schools including those in our area.

Community and the Built Environment, Grade = B-. Kids who can play outdoors safely are more active than those who can’t. A large majority of youth (85%) have a park or playground in their neighborhood; a factor that can lead to greater outdoor play. Disparities in neighborhoods exist, however, and the safety of parks and playgrounds is not always a certainty.

Government Strategies and Investments, Grade = INC. A number of governmental programs have been ongoing for years (e.g., President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition) and other have recently been developed (e.g., Get Active, Let’s Move). Time is necessary to determine program effectiveness.As the report indicates, the U. S. Physical Activity Report Card for Kids is not particularly impressive. There is work to be done if our youth are to be active and fit. There is much that we can do as individuals, parents, and as community members to improve the next report card.

More information is available at: http://www.physicalactivityplan.org/reportcard.php

Dr. Corbin is the author of more than one hundred books and 200 articles on fitness, health, and wellness. He was the first chair of the Science Board of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition (PCFSN) and was a charter advisor for FITNESSGRAM®, the national youth fitness test. He is a fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine and an Honor Fellow of the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America). He is a regular columnist for the Ahwatukee Foothills News in Phoenix, AZ.

Reprinted from the Ahwatukee Foothills News (June 2014), Phoenix, AZ (with permission).

The Childhood Obesity Time Bomb

July 16, 2014

By Doug Werner

Childhood obesity, ‘The Major Global Health Problem of Our Time’, reported the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an editorial dated July, 2009. ‘Medical Profession united in fight to defuse obesity time-bomb’ exclaimed the UK’s Academy of Medical Royal Colleges while recently introducing a nationwide campaign to fight ‘the single greatest public health threat in the UK – rising levels of child and adult obesity’. According to the World Health Organization, ‘Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century. The problem is global and is steadily affecting many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings. The prevalence has increased at an alarming rate. Globally, in 2010 the number of overweight children under the age of five is estimated to be over 42 million. Close to 35 million of these are living in developing countries.’

Why all the panic? It’s arguable that no other medical condition wreaks as much havoc on the human mind and body as obesity. This is not just a condition that can lead to a host of deadly diseases; it also comes with deep psychological, sociological and financial cost. Among the chronic physical conditions and diseases that are known to result from obesity is diabetes II, several cancers; including breast, colorectal and pancreatic, coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, asthma, sleep apnea and osteoarthritis. A recent study published in Pediatrics indicates that obesity may actually contribute to the risk of autism in the unborn children of obese women. Known debilitating mental health consequences include depression, poor self-esteem and low self-confidence. Sadly, obese children often suffer from humiliating social isolation, bullying and discrimination.

Reuters recently reported that the medical costs directly related to obesity are now nearly $190 billion per year in the US, or nearly 10% of all healthcare costs. A Mayo Clinic study indicated that overweight employees, those with a BMI of 40 or higher, averaged nearly $5,500 more per year in medical costs than those below a BMI of 40. Indirect and hidden costs associated with obesity include billions in lost productivity, absenteeism, customized furniture, fixtures and equipment. Absurdly, additional fuel required to transport obese passengers in automobiles, buses and planes is estimated to be over $10 billion per year.

Yes, there is no denying it; we are in the grips of a global health crisis with human and financial costs that are destined to rival any epidemic known to mankind. Yet, despite all of the indisputable data and visible evidence, this is an epidemic that has grown from an incident rate of 13% to 34% over the last 50 years. In 2007, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health stated that ‘if the rate of obesity and overweight continues at this pace, by 2015, 75 percent of adults and nearly 24 percent of U.S. children and adolescents will be overweight or obese.’ The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges is even less optimistic and estimates that 50% of all UK children will be obese or overweight by 2020.

Not surprisingly, the two most common direct causes are routinely acknowledged to be consuming too many calories and too little physical activity. The nutrition challenge is not just due to the increased popularity of fast food restaurants, but also the convenience of processed foods and sugary drinks. Despite packaging requirements that now clearly detail the nutrition and caloric value of most packaged and fast foods, overweight children still tend to consume calories at a rate far exceeding their daily metabolic requirement. Compounding this problem is a disturbing physical activity trend that continues to be challenged by the popularity of sedentary activities like TV viewing, video game playing and social media interaction. Unfortunately, most schools are not helping much either, as physical education classes and recess time continue to dwindle. Need more evidence? Visit any playground or ball park after school or on a weekend to witness the lack of children in ‘free play’. And, if obesity sets in at a very young age, the likelihood of playing organized sports later decreases as well.

What is the answer to reversing this disturbing childhood obesity trend? Well, there are many obvious answers derived from most of the lifestyle causes, such as eat less and exercise more. However, what most behavioral answers have in common for childhood obesity is the need for parent or guardian intervention. Not just parent awareness and leadership, but parent involvement! That challenge is exasperated by the fact that many obese and sedentary children also have one or more obese and/or sedentary parents. But therein lays the remarkable win-win too! Although some parents have legitimate reasons for not exercising themselves, for those who are capable, exercising for at least 30 minutes per day with your overweight child can provide not only tremendous physical and mental health benefits for parent and child, but also a bonding experience which is hard to replicate. Where to start? Here is the really good news; most experts agree that for safe, efficient and effective cardiovascular exercise, nothing beats a nice, brisk walk! Done hand in hand, few things can bring parent and child closer together.

Doug Werner is the author of ‘Abbie Gets Fit’, a children’s book chronicling a true story about his nine year old daughter’s fitness transformation. He is a 35-year veteran of the fitness industry and a recipient of that industry’s Distinguished Service Award. He is currently a vice president for Glastonbury, CT based Healthtrax Fitness and Wellness. He can be reached at doug@abbiegetsfit.com.