Study: Kids are less fit than their parents were

Children's fitness has declined worldwide over the last three decades, according to the American Heart Association.
Associated Press
Nov 19, 2013


Today's kids can't keep up with their parents. An analysis of studies on millions of children around the world finds they don't run as fast or as far as their parents did when they were young.

On average, it takes children 90 seconds longer to run a mile than their counterparts did 30 years ago. Heart-related fitness has declined 5 percent per decade since 1975 for children ages 9 to 17.

The American Heart Association, whose conference featured the research on Tuesday, says it's the first to show that children's fitness has declined worldwide over the last three decades.

"It makes sense. We have kids that are less active than before," said Dr. Stephen Daniels, a University of Colorado pediatrician and spokesman for the heart association.

Health experts recommend that children 6 and older get 60 minutes of moderately vigorous activity accumulated over a day. Only one-third of American kids do now.

"Kids aren't getting enough opportunities to build up that activity over the course of the day," Daniels said. "Many schools, for economic reasons, don't have any physical education at all. Some rely on recess" to provide exercise.

Sam Kass, a White House chef and head of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move program, stressed the role of schools in a speech to the conference on Monday.

"We are currently facing the most sedentary generation of children in our history," Kass said.

The new study was led by Grant Tomkinson, an exercise physiologist at the University of South Australia. Researchers analyzed 50 studies on running fitness — a key measure of cardiovascular health and endurance — involving 25 million children ages 9 to 17 in 28 countries from 1964 to 2010.

The studies measured how far children could run in 5 to 15 minutes and how quickly they ran a certain distance, ranging from half a mile to two miles. Today's kids are about 15 percent less fit than their parents were, researchers concluded.

"The changes are very similar for boys and girls and also for various ages," but differed by geographic region, Tomkinson said.

The decline in fitness seems to be leveling off in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and perhaps in the last few years in North America. However, it continues to fall in China, and Japan never had much falloff — fitness has remained fairly consistent there. About 20 million of the 25 million children in the studies were from Asia.

Tomkinson and Daniels said obesity likely plays a role, since it makes it harder to run or do any aerobic exercise. Too much time watching television and playing video games and unsafe neighborhoods with not enough options for outdoor play also may play a role, they said.

Other research discussed global declines in activity.

Fitness is "pretty poor in adults and even worse in young people," especially in the United States and eastern Europe, said Dr. Ulf Ekelund of the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo, Norway.

World Health Organization numbers suggest that 80 percent of young people globally may not be getting enough exercise.



2cents's picture

25 yrs ago there were all kinds of places/activities for kids to get out and be active. Now, thanks to the trial lawyers and litigation for every little stubbed toe and bloody nose, most businesses don't want to accept the liability. This is the result, a generation of kids who sit at home playing video games because every business in town that used to cater to kids having fun has shut down. The only outlet for kids is school sports, which not all kids are into. It won't be long before trial lawyers find a way to litigate sports out of schools. In fact I saw an article awhile back by the trial lawyers association on how to encourage legislation that would allow them to do just that. All I can say is keep electing lawyers into office and this is what you get.


I agree that there is a problem, but playgrounds haven't disappeared. Every city park in every city/town has one. Most every town of 10,000 or more has a civic rec center (Fremont has 2). And finally, most homes still have yards (when we were kids, we ran and played there).

Nowadays, you drive by homes with expensive jungle gym/swingsets in the yard, but rarely see kids playing on them. You don't see kids older than 6 running and playing. What you DO see is kids walking down the street with food in their hands.

The difference today is that parents don't exercise and haven't passed along exercise as a priority to their kids. A sizeable (sorry for the pun) majority of American adults and children are overweight or obese. I run 2-3 miles a day at the rec center, and one thing I've noticed is that the younger someone is, the less they exercise. That's laziness and a lack of self- motivation, not a problem caused by trial lawyers.


Baby-boomers had the luxury of time to play as children. Nowadays we have to work hard because things aren't handed to us on a social safety net platter.


A lot of us used to walk everywhere, too. Thanks to all the weirdos out there, we can't feel safe letting the kids do that anymore.


That's why I live in a small town. We feel safe walking alone after dark where I live. There are other options. My dad used to walk in the mall, or you can walk/run in a local rec center as I do.

I know and understand all the excuses people use to justify not exercising. It's a 25-mile round trip, and membership costs me $15 a month, and I'm as busy as anyone else is. On the other hand, it's a lot less expensive to keep healthy, than to pay for the costs of poor health.


The best predictor of a long and healthy life remains:

Pick your parents well.

Azure Ray

Is this news? It's like saying grass is green.