The High Price of Physical Inactivity
“There is a pestilence upon this land” – Roger the Shrubber
According to a new report this past week the fitness levels of children in the USA have declined about 6% per decade between 1975 and 2000. That’s before the widespread use of smartphones, tablets, online gaming etc., so I would imagine it’s even worse in the past decade. After analyzing 50 different studies on running fitness between 1964 and 2010, they report that kids run a mile, on average, about 90 seconds slower than their peers from 30 years ago.
The world has stopped moving. There has been a rapid decline in physical activity in today’s youth compared to all previous generations. The current generation of children simply doesn’t move as much as they should. While that may sound like the old guy complaining that the kids music is too loud, and they wear their pants too low etc, the message of this post is actually a very serious one and should not be taken lightly. There are too many implications that are involved that most people don’t think of when they think of physical activity. Sure, there are the health implications, but there are also implications for cognition, financial earnings potential, and quality of life. I wrote a similar post earlier this year with a very sobering video.
It has been documented that the people have false hope in medication and undervalue physical activity. That study was titled, Physical Inactivity: The Biggest Public Health Problem of the 21st Century.
I am not going to spend much time here. I think we all know there are major health implications to physical inactivity. It’s not just cardiovascular implications. Exercise has been linked to lower levels of depression, anxiety and other mental illness, arthritis, type II diabetes, sleep disorders, improved quality of life in general etc. These are well documented, so I’m not about to reference them all. If you’re really interested, here is a link to a 623 page document detailing the health benefits of physical exercise.
In children lower physical fitness has been linked to lower cognitive function for tests requiring memory, perception and cognitive control. Again, there are many, many studies showing this, so for a good review, here is a link to a full text article outlining much the data. Along with the physical inactivity and higher BMI being linked with poor cognition, one would expect that it would then be linked with lower academic achievement in general. If you think that, you would be correct and it has been shown here, here and here.
There is a significant partnership between physical inactivity and screen time – TV’s, laptops, iPhones, iTouch, gaming systems etc. It should not be surprising then that there is a significant relationship between screen time and cognition and mental health. There is a great review article on this topic found here. I found it interesting that for every hour a child spends in front of a screen, there is a 9% increase in subsequent attention problems consistent with ADHD [found here].
Due to the improved academic achievement that corresponds with higher physical activity, we could assume that there would be a corresponding potential for higher wage earning. The same could be said for the improvement in cognition including memory and focus. There is another aspect of wage earning which is the work productivity. There are a number of studies that shoe a dose response relationship between physical inactivity and absenteeism/sick leave [found here, here, here and here].
There are a number of recent studies on physical inactivity that should be sounding alarm bells in the media and garnering a full scale assault from the media. However, without the financial backing of major pharmaceuticals or business, the results of these studies are largely being ignored by the media. If physical activity can’t buy a commercial slot on TV, or a full page ad in a magazine, the media will ignore it.
In addition, the world of healthcare is fraught with spurious prescribing activity that is heavily influenced by pharmaceutical companies [here]. For example, there are serious questions raised about the financial interests of those doctors on the panel of the National Cholesterol Education Programme. You can find the financial disclosures of the panel members Adult Treatment Plan here. Keep in mind that the new cholesterol guidelines that just came out that will place many, many new people on statin medications. If you think I’m going off on a tangent here, maybe I am, but this drug mentality is trickling down to children, since there are now doctors recommending statin medications for children as young as 8 years old. There recently has been new cholesterol screening guidelines (that have been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics) which recommended universal screening for kids 9-11 years old.
Various studies have shown that exercise is as effective as statin medication, and this was summarized well just last month in the British Medical Journal. The full text of that article can be found here.
Summing it all up
So, kids these days run a mile 90 seconds slower than their peers in 1964, overall physical activity is declining worldwide and it is correlated with a a projected reduction in life span as well as increases in arthritis, obesity, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cognitive and emotional problems.
If you don’t get your kids out to play, jump and run, who will? They may not like you when you take away their video console and kick them outdoors, but they will be better off for it.