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Today's Children Less Fit Than Previous Generations
Children today are approximately 15 percent less fit than previous generations, according to new research. Experts caution that unless something is done, the U.S. health care system may soon become flooded with people suffering from heart disease and diabetes.
By Amir Khan
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TUESDAY, Nov. 19, 2013 —With childhood obesity becoming an epidemic in the United States, it should come as no surprise that many children are unhealthier than their parents' generation, and according to preliminary new research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions, that’s exactly the case. Researchers from the University of South Australia's School of Health Sciences found that kids today cannot run as fast or as far as their parents could at the same age, which researchers say is a dangerous harbinger of this generation’s future health.
Researchers analyzed 50 studies on the fitness of kids between 1964 and 2010, which contained data on more than 25 million kids between the ages of 9 and 17 from 28 countries around the world. The found that in the United States, kids’ cardiovascular health fell by an average of 6 percent every decade, and that overall, kids are 15 percent less fit than their parents' generation.
"If a young person is generally unfit now, then they are more likely to develop conditions like heart disease later in life," study author Grant Tomkinson, PhD, senior lecturer at the University of South Australia's School of Health Sciences, said in a statement.
The studies looked at such things as how quickly children were able to run a mile, and how long they were able to run for.
A child’s endurance is a good measure of how fit he will be in adulthood, according to the study, and researchers found that kids today are a minute and a half slower than children of the same age 30 years ago, which researchers attribute to the childhood obesity epidemic affecting 1 in 3 children in the United States.
“About 30 percent to 60 percent of the declines in endurance running performance can be explained by increases in fat mass," Dr. Tomkinson said in the statement.
Peter VandeKappelle, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at Akron Children's Hospital in Ohio, said that the findings aren’t surprising, as exercise and healthy eating have fallen by the wayside for this generation.
“Exercise used to be a given,” Dr. VandeKappelle said. “Kids would play outside, gym class was mandatory. Now, most schools are focusing more on education and cutting back on areas such as gym. And at home, screen time has increased. When you add up a sedentary lifestyle and an unhealthy diet, you get an increase in obesity.”
Reversing this trend is difficult, VandeKappelle said, because as children get older, changing habits gets significantly more difficullt, which is why families need to make a concerted effort to instill healthy habits in their children.
“As a family, everyone needs to be on board,” he said. “Mom, dad and all the kids have to change their habits. If one parent tells a kid to exercise, but the other says they can play video games, who do you think they are going to listen to?”
Kids spend an average of eight hours per day in front of screens, according to the CDC. Many kids begin watching TV at a very young age, which VandeKappelle said only instills bad habits.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV time in the first two years of life,” he said. “Parents have to enforce that.”
In addition, parents are in charge of what their children eat, so giving them healthy food from the beginning will help them live a healthier life.
“Kids crave sugar, and will overeat if you give it to them,” VandeKappelle said. “Parents have to make sure to not give their child juice, soda or chocolate milk.”
And finally, parents have to remember that their children look up to them.
“As kids get older and look at their parents to know how to act, parents have to exercise regularly to show them that it’s a priority,” VandeKappelle said.
And unless parents, schools and policymakers come together to make an effort to help today’s generation and beyond, the country will become overwhelmed by an unhealthy population, VandeKappelle said.
“The health care system is going to become overrun with people suffering from premature heart attack, high blood pressure and diabetes,” he said. “It’s going to be a major problem.
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