A Hidden Danger to Our Children

Active kids bikingRecently the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that only one in four American children aged 12-15 get the recommended 60 minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

Moreover, the federal agency reported that the percentage of adolescents – both boys and girls – who were physically active at the recommended levels declined as their body mass index increased.

Jefferson pediatrician Gary A. Emmett, MD, discusses the implications of these data in a guest commentary for @Jeff:

Inactivity is the hidden bomb that will hurt our children as they age.

Gary A. Emmett, MD

Gary A. Emmett, MD

Exercise when young makes one’s bones thicker and sturdier and will delay osteoporosis later in life. Regular exercise prevents, to some extent, obesity, and definitely makes the muscles better developed and the cardiovascular system more able to deal with stress.

But most of our children do not walk anywhere, they are driven. They sit rather than play outside. I never joined the Little League, but we all played basketball in the school yard and baseball on the back lawn of the telephone building every day after school until the sun set and sometimes long after (at least, until our mothers called us for supper).

My mother is almost 98, lives alone and takes no medicine. She used to walk from around 7th and Pine to 48th and Walnut – about 4 miles – for high school to save the 5 cents each way on the trolley. She used to swing dance for several hours a day and spent her whole life active. In the last year or so her spine has started to subside from gravity, but she can climb by herself into our SUV and do her own housework (she refuses to get a maid). It is only because of her lifelong healthful activity, it would be difficult to do so well without it.

Children in the U.S. started to become obese in 1963 at a time when over 85 percent of schoolchildren either walked or rode bicycles to school.  In 2009, less than 20 percent of children get themselves to school, and now over 30 percent are very overweight and 20 percent are obese.

A good day for a child, I have always said, is at least 1 hour of reading and 1 hour of running.

The average child in the U.S. does neither.

Some unanticipated results have occurred from the lack of physical activity among our children. We weigh more and it’s impacted our bodies.

Obese children start and finish going through puberty earlier than in the past because the fat cells actually make various estrogen and testosterone like chemicals. Unfortunately, if you start and finish puberty earlier, you end up shorter than expected. Americans used to be the tallest people in the world. Now northern Europeans are.

Children have thinner bones from just sitting and weigh more so they are less sturdy. And they will have more chances to break bones as they age.

So parents it’s time to make a change. Get your children outside. Let them run and dance and climb. Yes they might fall, but they will soar physically and, I think, mentally. In a world where 1 in 60 adult women live to be a 100 years old, we had better prepare their bodies to live that long.

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