From 1980 to 2008, rates of obesity in the U.S. increased from 6.5 percent to 19.6 percent in children ages 6 to 11 years old, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Control Prevention. In all child age ranges, obesity in the U.S. has risen significantly. The center suggests that a combination of reasons are behind the rise, but one contributing factor is a decline in physical activity during childhood.
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education suggests that children get a minimum of 60 minutes of exercise every day. The type of activity doesn't matter as long as it's either of moderate or high intensity. That includes anything from jump-rope to playing tag. Toddlers and preschool children should get 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity, and shouldn't be allowed to stay sedentary for more than an hour at a time. In a survey of 10th graders in Washington in 2006, only 43 percent reached the suggested daily activity target.
Physical education and general activities during school time decreased by 14 percent from 1991 to 2003. On top of that, only 28 percent of high school students get the suggested daily amounts of physical exercise. Some of the reasons cited by teachers in a New York school for the lack of physical education include a lack of equipment, inadequate training, no compliance from parents and a bias toward activities related to standardized tests.
Many children now have access to an array of media, including TV, video game machines, smart phones and the Internet. Researchers have linked excessive TV watching with childhood obesity as far back as 1985. A paper titled "Childhood Obesity: Prevalence, Treatment and Prevention" on the University of New Mexico website found that media use is strongly associated with declines in daily physical activities. In addition, children watching TV are more likely to eat fatty snacks, contributing further to the risk of childhood obesity.
Keep Your Child Active
Help your child become more active by reducing the amount of screen time allowed per day. Try enforcing a fair limit, such as no more than two hours of computer or TV per day for everyone in the family. Similarly, removing TVs from children's bedrooms can help prevent long sedentary periods of screen watching. Arranging daily activities for the family, such as bike rides, dog walking or trips to the playground, can also help keep your kids active.
- National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: Childhood Obesity
- Washington State Nutrition and Physical Activity Plan: Increase the Number of Physical Activity Opportunities Available to Children
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Overweight and Obesity Contributing Factors
- Columbia University: Physical Education and Childhood Obesity
- University of New Mexico: Childhood Obesity: Prevelance, Treatment and Prevention
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Childhood Obesity