American children are scoring failing marks in fitness because of the lure of the Internet, time-pressed parents and the culture of the car, fitness experts say.
Only one quarter of children aged 6 to 15 meet the current guidelines of 60 minutes of moderate physical activity per day, said Dr. Russell R. Pate, chairman of the non-profit National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP) Alliance, which issued the first U.S. report card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth.
“Fifty percent of waking hours are spent in sedentary activity,” said Pate, professor in the Department of Exercise Science in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina.
Fitness experts say it is up to parents and policy makers to get their children to be more active.
“It’s not about grading the kids," said Dr. Peter Katzmarzyk, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and chairman of the research committee that issued the report card.
"Kids want to be active, if they’re given the opportunity." he said. "This is for us to change.”
The report is based on public data and provides a snapshot of the state of youth physical activity in America. The 2014 grades were bad, without a single top mark.
NPAP evaluated 10 key indicators, from overall physical activity to organized sports participation, and the number of children who cycle or walk to school. It found that since 1969, the proportion of elementary and middle-school students walking or cycling to school dropped from 47.7 percent to 12 percent.
“More kids these days live too far from the school they attend,” Pate said. “The social norm around this behavior has really changed, and not for the better.”
The report card did not come as a surprise for Brian Sanders of i9 Sports, which provides camps and clinics for boys and girls aged 3 to 14 in sports such as flag (no-contact) football, soccer, basketball and baseball.
“Public schools don’t have funding to support athletic programs and both parents working don’t have the time to get kids to activities,” he said. “Then there’s the increase in digital use. It all adds up.”
Sanders added that many parents are also concerned about safety aspects of playing in the neighborhood, and organized sports too often putting the emphasis on competition over fun.
Katzmarzyk said the report also reflects socio-economic disparities.
“Kids who come from higher incomes are participating (in sports),” he said.“Lower economic groups are not participating. There’s a lot more work to do to make these activities available to everyone.”
Katzmarzyk said the U.S. is one of 15 countries that compiled the report card, which will be the first of many. It is an advocacy tool aimed at the adult decision makers, he added.