Children’s Fitness Falling Fast
New research indicates that the level of fitness among children is falling faster than previously believed. And it has little to do with simultaneously rising rates of childhood obesity. In 2009, researchers at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom, published the results of a study which concluded that fitness levels had fallen by 8% over the course of the previous decade. In the present follow-up study, they found similarly declining rates of fitness, but kids were actually thinner this time around.
According to investigator, Dr. Gavin Sandercock, "Our findings show there is no obesity crisis in the schools we went to as less than 5% of pupils were obese and the average [body mass index (BMI)] is now below 1998 values.” So far, so good. But there’s more to the story, unfortunately. “This would be good news if BMI was all we had measured, but our fitness tests tell a different story.” Researchers had expected that thinner students would fare better on tests of physical fitness than their heavier peers from the prior study. But that was not the case.
"Simply put, if you weigh less it is easier to run and turn so you should do better on our test," said Dr. Sandercock. "But despite finding a lower average BMI in the children measured in 2014 than in 2008, we found the children still couldn't run as fast, showing they had even lower cardiorespiratory fitness.” To put things in perspective, Sandercock added: “It has got to the stage now that if we took the least fit child from a class of 30 we tested in 1998, they would be one of the five fittest children in a class of the same age today.”
Sandercock emphasizes that simply tracking kids’ BMIs is not sufficient to gauge longterm health. While England evidently leads the world in children’s falling fitness levels, there’s cause for concern across the board. Childhood obesity is on the rise in the United States, although there are few statistics available regarding relative physical fitness. ”Seeing fitness falling independent of BMI tells us for certain that the cause of the decline is a lack of physical activity. Being unfit and being obese are just two symptoms of physical inactivity that we can see -- what we can't see is the health problems building up in today's unfit children.”
University of Essex website. News page. Events page. Accessed June 22, 2015 from: http://www.essex.ac.uk/news/event.aspx?e_id=7764
National Association for Sport and Physical Education. The Fitness Equation: Physical Activity + Balanced Diet = Fit Kids. Reston, VA: National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 1999.