Children are not meeting the internationally recommended levels of physical exercise, reported The Guardian . “To be healthy and stave off risks of obesity and linked conditions such as diabetes, youngsters are recommended to take an hour a day of moderate to vigorous exercise,” the newspaper explained. It suggested that only one in 250 girls and one in 20 boys are getting enough exercise to stay healthy. The Guardian estimated that more than 700,000 children are putting their future health at risk.
The reports are based on a relatively large and reliable study. However, as these results come from children who live in one region of the UK, we cannot say for sure that children in other regions of the UK, or in other countries would have similar levels of activity. It is worrying that children, particularly girls, do not seem to be getting enough exercise, and all children should be encouraged to be more active, and to develop healthy eating habits that will stand them in good stead in adulthood.
Professor Chris Riddoch from the University of Bath and colleagues from the Universities of Bristol and South Carolina carried out this research. The study received funding from the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the UK Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, and the University of Bristol. It was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal, Archives of Disease in Childhood .
This was cross-sectional analysis, looking at activity levels in 11 year olds, as part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC).
The researchers studied 5,595 children aged 11, whose mothers took part in the ALSPAC Cohort study while they were pregnant in 1991-1992. They used a piece of equipment called an accelerometer to measure how active the children were. The accelerometer was worn on an elasticated belt for seven consecutive days, and it measured and recorded movement counts in one minute periods. Movement counters measured both the frequency and the intensity of motion. Using these recordings the researchers calculated the children’s total physical activity (average movement counts per minute) and time spent doing moderate to vigorous physical activity (defined as at least 3,600 counts per minute). They compared activity for boys and girls and for weekdays and weekends. They also looked at whether children’s levels of activity met International Task Force recommendations.
The researchers found that on average, children spent 20 minutes per day doing moderate to vigorous physical activity. Boys were more active than girls, and spent 25 minutes per day in this kind of activity, compared with just 16 minutes for girls. Only 51 in 1,000 boys and 4 in 1,000 girls achieved the internationally recommended levels of activity, which suggest that children should engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day.
The researchers concluded that the majority of children are not sufficiently active according to current international recommendations.
This was quite a large study, which seems relatively reliable. Points to consider when interpreting this study include:
Overall, encouraging children to be more active is a good idea, and should bring many health benefits to them both in childhood and adulthood.
The debate on obesity has so far focussed too much on food; it is true some children need less food, but all children need more exercise. However, the ‘e’ word should never be used, it’s better to take the girls on a shopping expedition, park the car two miles from the shops and leave the credit card at home!