We all know that we've gotten pretty sedentary as a society. We adults spend much of our lives sitting in chairs, punching away at our little machines, and driving around in our cars. But we like to think that children have not yet settled into this deadly habit. We imagine them playing long games of tag, going to soccer practice, and skipping along the sidewalks everywhere they go. We certainly do not think of them as being pale, enfeebled technology addicts like their parents. But, sadly, it looks like they really might be tiny chips off the old block, since a new study has found that some elementary school kids are active for just 20 minutes each day, and that number is even lower for many girls.
The study was conducted by researchers at the Universities of Strathclyde and Newcastle. They gave pedometers to 508 children between the ages of eight and 10 and measured their activity over a week. They also collected physical data on them. They found that on average the children were doing moderate to vigorous activity for just four percent of the time they were awake, which is equal to about 20 minutes a day. The recommended amount is 60 minutes each day. The girls were significantly less active than the boys were.
This research matches up somewhat with previous research that showed preschool-aged kids aren't playing outside nearly as often as they should—especially the girls. But even still, Dr. Mark Pearce, one of the researchers from Newcastle University, told the BBC that he was surprised how low the levels of activity were in these kids, and he was particularly surprised by the fact that girls were even lower. One finding of note was that the kids with older fathers tended to be less active, which might be explained by the fact that the dads weren't as likely to exercise with their kids because of their tired old bones, etc.
Interestingly, the kids whose parents restricted their access to television were even less active than the children who did watch TV. This seems backwards, and they say it's possible it was something specific about this group of kids. But they also theorize that the kids who could watch TV had more role models who were active, either sports figures or fictional characters who inspired them to do the same thing.
As for why the girls were less active, Pearce believes it's at least in part related to their relationship with sports: "One of the important things is that most girls don't see sport as cool." That is so, so depressing—though very easy to believe. Pearce thinks it's urgent that this be addressed:
We need to be tackling these issues earlier by encouraging girls to exercise, by providing a wider range of opportunities than are currently on offer, and by ensuring they see positive female role models, particularly in the media.
Sounds good. Where do we sign up for that female empowerment cable package? Oh, right…
Anyway, it's important that all these kids get their asses in gear, not just the girls. If they don't get in the habit of exercising now, they're going to end up like our generation of adults, who are so inactive that it's making us sick. And the elementary school age range is particularly important, because as Pearce explains, "Activity drops in teenage years and if it's this low at eight, there's not much further to fall." Well, if that's true, then when these kids become teens, they'll basically be homebound and never leave the couch. As tempting as it is to sit back and let the talented Michelle Obama fix this problem for us, the researchers felt strongly that the responsibility for getting kids moving lay equally with parents and with schools. So now that we've got the message, we'd all better get out there and move, or we're going to evolve into a species with little sticks for arms and legs that can only transport ourselves by using our phones to move our wheeled desk chairs around.
Image via Cheryl Casey/Shutterstock.