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Fit Kids

Why Exercise Matters to Your Kids

Do you think gym class and other forms of physical activity aren't important for children? Consider these U.S. government statistics:

  • The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than doubled since 1980.

  • One out of three high school students doesn't participate regularly in vigorous physical activity.

  • Racial and ethnic minorities and those in the lower socioeconomic classes have a higher rate of overweight and decreased exercise.

  • Only 30 percent of high school students attend daily physical education classes.

  • Time spent in sedentary activities such as television, video games and computer use has increased. About one in four children spend four or more hours a day watching TV, and two in three children spend at least two hours per day. Children who spend four or more hours daily in front of a screen are much more likely to be overweight or obese. Few children who spend less than one hour per day of screen time are overweight or obese.

"What we're seeing are the extremes in which some kids play a lot of competitive sports in organized leagues while others get no physical activity at all," says Eric Small, M.D. A pediatric sports medicine specialist, Dr. Small is a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Is your kid is unfit?

Howell Wechsler, Ed.D., M.P.H., is director of the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Wechsler says you may have a problem if your child:

  • Is out of breath after climbing one to two sets of stairs.

  • Has trouble carrying a sack of groceries in from the car.

  • Can't touch his or her toes.

  • Is clearly overweight and "knock-kneed."

  • Is an object of ridicule, teasing or social ostracism by peers because he or she is "fat."

  • You have looked up or calculated your child's body mass index and it is 25 or greater, or greater than the 85 percentile for your child's age.

The role of gym class

Getting your child into the game doesn't have to mean competitive sports. Experts say parents should lobby for regular physical education classes in school.

"It's a tragedy when phys ed is discontinued," says Howard Taras, M.D., clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California at San Diego. "Children who are physically active during the day are also more alert and able to learn," says Dr. Taras, who teaches school health and community pediatrics.

Adolescents should be physically active each day, experts say. They also should:

  • Do three or more sessions a week of activity lasting 20 minutes or more.

  • Pick activities that require vigorous, aerobic exertion. That doesn't count weight lifting or things like softball that leave kids standing around a lot. Family walks, bike rides and similar activities are a great start, Dr. Small says.

Publication Source: Starting Out Healthy magazine
Author: Bramnick, Jeffrey
Online Source: Weight-Control Information Network
Online Source: CDC
Online Editor: Sara Foster RN MPH
Online Editor: Sinovic, Dianna
Online Medical Reviewer: Fiveash, Laura DrPH, MPH, RD
Online Medical Reviewer: Godsey, Cynthia M.S., M.S.N., APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: Lambert, J.G. M.D.
Online Medical Reviewer: Lee Jenkins
Online Medical Reviewer: Lesperance, Leann MD
Date Last Reviewed: 12/21/2009
Date Last Modified: 12/28/2009!