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Lack of Physical Activity Among Children & Teens Alarms Health Experts

Lack of Physical Activity Among Children & Teens Alarms Health Experts

Physical inactivity is the world’s fourth leading cause of death. It is also linked to chronic illness and disability.

According to recent research, if people do not become more active, the world could see nearly half a billion new cases of major chronic diseases by 2030.

Regular physical activity aids in the prevention and management of many chronic diseases.

Walking, cycling, and participating in sports are all popular ways to stay physically active.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that children and adolescents (5-17 years old) get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day.

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At least three days per week, this should include vigorous aerobic activities as well as those that strengthen muscle and bone.

It is also recommended that children limit their recreational screen time to no more than two hours per day.

These suggestions are intended to improve children’s physical and mental health, as well as cognitive outcomes.

Physical activity among children and adolescents was already below recommended levels before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2016, 81% of adolescents aged 11-17 worldwide were considered physically inactive.

Girls were less physically active than boys.

The pandemic has exacerbated the situation. Physical inactivity among children and adolescents has emerged as a global public health concern.

It is now part of global action plans.

For example, using 2016 as a baseline, the WHO’s Global Action Plan on Physical Activity aimed for a 15% reduction in the prevalence of physical inactivity among adolescents by 2030.

This call to action also urged other international organizations and governments to assist in tracking progress in the promotion of physical activity among children and adolescents.

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The Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance recently published a major study, the first to provide a comprehensive assessment of physical activity among children and adolescents, in response to the global physical inactivity crisis, the international call to action, and the need to systematically collect comparable data.

The study, which was published in October 2022, included data collected before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We were among 682 experts who evaluated ten common physical activity indicators for children and adolescents worldwide.

According to our findings, physical activity among children and adolescents has not improved.

Around one-third of children and adolescents worldwide were physically active enough, while slightly more than one-third met the recreational screen time recommendation for better health and well-being.

These findings suggest that a significant proportion of children and adolescents who do not meet recommended physical activity guidelines are at a higher risk of negative outcomes and developing related chronic diseases at a much younger age.

The COVID effect

The majority of the experts in our study agree that the childhood physical inactivity crisis is an ongoing public health issue, and the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have exacerbated it.

More than 90% of experts polled agreed that COVID-19 hurt children’s sedentary behavior, organized sports, and physical activity.

Numerous studies back up our findings.

Lockdowns imposed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in school closures and park closures, limiting children’s physical activity.

According to research, during the pandemic, children’s moderate-to-vigorous physical activity decreased by 17 minutes per day.

This is a reduction of nearly one-third of the recommended daily activity.

Another global study involving 187 countries found that individuals’ daily step counts decreased by 27.3% after 30 days of COVID-19-related restrictions.

Our research

Botswana, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe all took part in our research.

The grades ranged from A+ (the vast majority, 94%-100% of children and adolescents met recommended levels) to F (less than 20% met recommended levels).

Children and adolescents in four African countries were marginally more physically active than children worldwide.

They received a C- (47%-53% met recommendations) for overall physical activity, while the rest of the world received a D (27%-33% met recommendations).

African children and adolescents used active transportation more (B-; 60%-66%), were less sedentary (C-; 40%-46%), and were physically fitter (C+; 54%-59%), compared to the rest of the world (C-, D+, and C-).

An important success story from this global comparison of grades is that, despite a lack of infrastructure, African countries’ average grades for individual behaviors were generally higher.

This may reflect necessity rather than choice. Children, for example, may be forced to walk to school because there is no affordable transportation.

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Nonetheless, it demonstrates that even with limited resources, it is possible to promote healthy lifestyles.

Physical activity participation is frequently associated with factors such as having supportive family and friends, safer communities, positive school environments, and adequate resources.

The four African countries received lower average grades for these sources of influence than the rest of the world.

These findings highlight the difficulties associated with community safety, a general lack of infrastructure, and funding to support healthy behaviors in African countries.

Overall, there was insufficient data to accurately grade all of the African countries’ indicators. Botswana was the only country where we could assign grades to each of the ten common indicators.

The remaining three countries all had at least one incomplete grade.

In many low- and middle-income countries, a lack of representative data is a common and frequently recurring issue.

This implies that our findings should be interpreted with caution.

We cannot, for example, say with certainty that these findings are representative of all children and adolescents in these four countries or the region as a whole.

The way forward

The prevalence of infectious and other diseases justifies the need for attention and resources in many parts of Africa.

These needs may outnumber messages about physical inactivity, the negative impact of which may be silent but still harmful to population health.

We must continue to advocate for policies and practices that are grounded in the African context and promote equitable opportunities for children to participate in physical activity.

Active school recesses and extracurricular activities are examples of these.

Countries must provide safe, free public spaces, green spaces, playgrounds, and sports facilities.

Finally, researchers and public health practitioners must monitor progress toward the WHO’s goals.