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Why is physical activity dwindling in children?

Posted in General Health 21 Jun, 2012

A recent BBC news article has highlighted the findings of two university studies that have together suggested that some children, aged 8 – 10 years old, were only physically active for 20 minutes per day.

Using pedometers to measure their physical activity, the researchers from the University of Strathclyde and Newcastle found that only 4% of day was spent doing physical activity, despite the current guidelines which recommend 60 minutes per day.

With obesity and excess weight becoming more of a problem with young adults and children, activity levels should ideally be increasing to counteract this issue. Physical exercise is crucial in helping children in their development, as well as avoiding excessive weight gain and sedentary lifestyles as they grow into their teens. Childhood obesity is an increasing worry as the negative health effects often continue into adulthood.

The research in this instance interestingly did not equate the issue to children watching television excessively, which is often considered one of the main causes. On the contrary, children whose television time was restricted tended to be less active. Researchers admitted that the result was surprising but suggested that some aspects of TV might act as a role model for children to pursue and emulate the sports or activities seen.

However, it is arguably a factor when considered together with other device usage such as video games, computers and smart phones. A report published in early 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation in the United States suggested that children from eight to 18 years of age spent an average of nearly eight hours a day using various forms of media entertainment. However, the report focussed solely on television, and when taking into consideration the technological advances we have seen since then, the use of interactive media arguably has a part to play in the increasingly high numbers of overweight children.

Some argue that it is the availability of said technology that is causing the worrying trend. Children do generally have more electronic and entertainment devices than previous generations due to lower prices and wider choice selection, meaning that for stimulation and entertainment, children can simply sit down and not get up for hours.

It is only a natural progression then that they would not feel the need - or be encouraged - to spend time engaging in positive physical activity. This would explain, at least to a degree, why physical activity in children appears to be so low.

Dr. Mark Pearce from Newcastle University spoke to the BBC about the findings. While his reported comments were in regards to the lower levels of activity found in young girls, his suggestion is applicable for both genders.

”We need to be tackling these issues earlier by encouraging [girls and boys] to exercise, by providing a wider range of opportunities than are currently on offer, ensuring they see [positive] role models,” he said.

With the London Olympics just around the corner, perhaps now would be a good time for parent, educators and children themselves to address the issue and begin tackling the problem.

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