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).

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