They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and it really rings true when it comes to our kids. They eat what we eat, and they do what we do. So, exactly what kind of apples are we producing? Unfortunately, not very healthy ones.
Just like the adults, more than one-third of American children are overweight or obese, and it seems as fitness slows, the numbers continue to grow.
A report recently released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that as the years pass, American youth are becoming less physically fit.
CDC officials used data from the National Youth Fitness Survey (NNYFS), a 1-year survey conducted in 2012 designed to obtain data on the physical activity and fitness levels of children and adolescents. The survey was conducted in conjunction with the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a large database about Americans’ health habits.
The researchers conducting the survey tested the cardiorespiratory fitness levels of 450 boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 15, who represented a wide range of ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
Cardiorespiratory fitness was measured using a treadmill test. Youth participants were instructed to run on a treadmill with the goal of eliciting a heart rate that was approximately 75% of the age-predicted benchmark for their age group.
Analysis of the results showed that only 42% of the youths met fitness levels that put them in the Healthy Fitness Zone. Girls were less fit than boys, with just one third regarded as fit compared with 50% of boys. And unsurprisingly, more normal-weight youth were found to be fit (54.1%) compared to overweight (29.9%) or obese youth (20%).
Ethnicity and family income did not seem to have a measurable effect on the youths’ fitness level, as those in higher-income households were just as likely to be out of shape as peers from lower-income households.
The results also showed that fitness levels have declined over the past decade. When compared with study results from 1999 to 2000, average fitness levels declined 10 percentage points, from 52% to 42%.
A related study published last week in the CDC journal, Preventing Chronic Disease, found that youth gain more weight over summer break.
Harvard-led researchers analyzed the results of seven studies examining summer weight gain among children between the ages of 5 to 17. By comparing the youths’ body composition measurements before and after summer vacation, they found proof of more rapid weight gain in some children over this period versus during the school year.
The weight gain was most apparent in adolescents, among Black and Hispanic youths, and among those who were already overweight prior to summer. The researchers suggested that lack of access to healthy food options and limited out-of-school activities may be contributing factors.
Lead study author Rebecca Franckle, research assistant in the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health noted, “Further research in this area is needed as summer weight gain may exacerbate existing health disparities.”
The Bottom Line
These studies show that it’s not just adults who are becoming more sedentary – our children are, too, and that’s a shame because children need to play and be active. Unfit children grow up to become unfit adults, resulting in a lifetime of chronic conditions and disease, so the key to a healthier nation is to get our nations’ kids moving.
The best way to accomplish this is as a family, because kids learn their habits from their parents.
Keeping your children active doesn’t have to be costly or difficult. Here are some tips on how to stay active as a family during summer:
Go for a hike on the weekend. You’ll not only be active but also have an opportunity to see nature and parts of your city you’ve never seen before! Sites like www.everytrail.com can help you find easy to moderate trails near you.
Go for an urban hike. Get outside and explore a neighborhood you’ve never been to! You can browse stores, take pictures, and find other fun places to visit while keeping your feet moving.
Plan a scavenger hunt. Whether it’s around the house or outdoors, make a list of items to find (a coin, a leaf with 5 points, etc.), split up into teams, and set a time limit. With all the searching and excitement, your family will be walking and running without even realizing it’s exercise!
Compete as a family. Play catch, throw a football around, shoot a basketball – any and all sports can become even more fun when a victory is at stake!
Plan play dates with friends. Get together with other parents and plan trips to the park, bike outings, or other activities where children can be active together. Having fun always seems to involve running around when friends are nearby!
Build a fort or tent in the backyard. You’ll be active, but also help with motor and spatial skills, too!
Do chores together. From washing the car to sweeping the porch to dusting the furniture, you’ll get a helper and help your helper feel like a responsible member of the family.
By staying active together and modeling healthy habits, you’ll set a great example for your children and help them get into their own health routines!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.