Healthy Facts

Research Shows that Kids Benefit Greatly from Physical Activity

What do we know about the effects of physical activity for kids?

Answer: We know plenty, and the truth is that physical activity delivers an array of benefits to kids. Here’s some of the significant scientific data on the health of children.

The Problem: Lack of Physical Activity among American Kids

National experts recommend that elementary-age children get 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day. Yet, research shows that children are failing to reach even minimal benchmarks for age appropriate physical activity.

Since 1980, obesity rates for children have tripled. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, the percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2010. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period. Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors. Obesity is defined as having excess body fat.

For the first time in generations, children are expected to live shorter lives than their parents due to the health dangers related to obesity. Inactivity, combined with poor nutrition, may be lowering the quality of physical health and life expectancy for a generation of children.

The US Surgeon General has identified obesity as one of the greatest health problems facing the nation today. According to the Center for Disease Control, obesity has both immediate and long-term effects on child physical and emotional health.

The two greatest influences in childhood obesity are high calorie, poor quality diets and inadequate physical activity.

Children with higher Body Mass Index (BMI) have greater difficulty in school adjustment. They have poorer academic achievement, greater susceptibility to bullying and teasing across genders, and more externalizing behavior by girls, greater peer rejection by non-overweight peers, and poorer cognitive functioning compared to normal weight school youth.

Children who are overweight have a 70–80% chance of becoming overweight or obese as adults.

Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization, poor self-esteem, anxiety disorders, and depression.

Children are now presenting obesity-related diseases previously diagnosed in adulthood, specifically Type II diabetes, glucose intolerance, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular abnormalities that lead to heart disease.

Overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk for many types of cancer, including cancers of the breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, gall bladder, thyroid, ovary, cervix, and prostate, as well as multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Due to school budget cuts, many physical education programs in our area have been eliminated, leaving classroom teachers to teach PE classes, many times without specialized training. 

The Solution: More Physical Activity Combined with Better Eating Habits

Physical activity supports healthy social, cognitive, and physical development in children.

Changing community environments so that they promote healthy food and physical activity are critical to reversing obesity in America.

Schools play a particularly critical role by establishing a safe and supportive environment with policies and practices that support healthy behaviors. Schools also provide opportunities for students to learn about and practice healthy eating and physical activity.

Healthy Moves offers benefits to schools and students in promoting child physical activity in the following ways:

  • Teachers and students learn a standard warm up and cool down exercise that can be done consistently in all PE classrooms.
  • Teachers and students are exposed to activities designed by professional trainers that may add procedural and instructional diversity to future PE classes.
  • Students benefit by experiencing new ideas for activities, exposure to a professional PE advocate, and encouragement to gain strength, flexibility, coordination and endurance in their daily lives.
  • School districts gain greater visibility for their commitment to PE instruction with teachers, students and parents.