The Current Generation Of Children Are Fatter And Slower Than The Last

Young boy running in school sports day
A competitive race at a school sports day

A study presented at the American Heart Association’s 2013 Scientific Sessions, held from November 16–19 in Dallas, has found that children today cannot run as fast as their parents could when they were children. In one generation we have become collectively less fit and less athletic.

The health researchers, led by Dr. Grant Tomkinson from the University of South Australia in Adelaide, number crunched 46 years of data collected on a staggering 25 million children in 28 countries around the world. They examined 50 peer reviewed studies from between 1964 and 2010.

Once all the data had been examined the researchers found that on average children today are 90 seconds slower over one mile than they were 30 years ago. They presented their results on Tuesday, Nov 19th during the Physical Activity/Exercise Benefits: From Childhood to End-Stage Disease session, which was held in Dallas.

Cardiovascular fitness falling by 5% each decade

Cardiovascular fitness is falling by around 5% every ten years on average. The decline in fitness is seen equally in boys and girls between the ages of nine and 17 years. Obesity is the biggest problem. In America the reduction is 6% a year.

 “Time-related declines in cardiovascular endurance performance are probably caused by a network of social, behavioral, physical, psychosocial, and physiological factors.” Dr. Grant Tomkinson, 2013.

Why are children slower? Genetics cannot have changed in one generation, so the answer is due to lifestyle factors. While a generally sedentary lifestyle is a big factor, it is thought that the biggest cause of the global slow down is an increase fat levels. Fatter children simply cannot run as fast. Increase in body fat is accounting for between 30 and 60% of the reduction in speed.

WHO research has also shown that as many as 80% of young people globally are not getting enough exercise. Many schools have dropped physical education, partly due to the pressure to perform well in reading, writing and math, and partly due to sports budgets being scrapped.

In running circles people who are overweight are often told that they have a “monkey on their back”. It is a polite way of saying “your problem is that you are too fat”. Weight slows everybody down. There are exercises that can be done to run a faster mile, but losing weight is vital.

In December 2009 we reported that children are less fit than ten years ago. There is no doubt that children today are more overweight than ever before. We are bringing children up in a society where walking is frowned upon and food is plentiful all year round and as much as health professionals and policy experts talk of the need for change, nothing seems to be happening.

Earlier this year we campaigned (unsuccessfully) to give children one hour of exercise a day. Children spend far too much time sat in classrooms, sat in front of television and sat in front of computers. We should not blame the children though, it is the parents fault. Every time we take a car to the local shops or chose to stay at home to watch sport on television instead of take the kids to the park, it if the children who are suffering.

“We have kids that are less active than before,” said Dr Stephen Daniels, a University of Colorado paediatrician and spokesman for the association.

The biggest concern is the long-term impact this will have. Diabetes is a growing concern and heart disease, stroke, cancer, high blood pressure and various digestive problems are all continuing to affect millions. Get your kids active!

News source:

The Guardian also reported the news: Children unable to run as fast as parents’ generation, study shows

American Heart Association Presentation Abstract: 13498 – Global Changes in Cardiovascular Endurance of Children and Youth Since 1964: Systematic Analysis of 25 Million Fitness Test Results from 28 Countries


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