Today's Kids Are Less Fit Than Those From Previous Generations

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With kids’ sports the being as intense and competitive as they are these days, we might assume our kids are fitter than ever.

How can they not be? I think about my daughter who just finished her lacrosse season and had practice every day after school, and games two to three times a week. Her practices lasted for hours — and this was school team, not a special travel league, which many other kids played in, too.

Some kids squeeze in more than one sport per season, and many parents feel like all they do is watch their kids play sports, and drive them to games or practices.

Although you don’t have to be super-athletic or spend hours participating in sports to be active and fit, the options available for our kids are endless. It seems this should be the fittest generation that has ever walked the earth with all the activities we have our kids involved in, but that’s not the case.

According to a worldwide survey conducted by Dick’s Sporting Goods (so definitely not a peer-reviewed, independent study, but still), kids’ fitness levels took a dip from 1970 to 2000. After studying 25 million kids between the ages of 6 to 19 years from 27 countries, the evidence was clear — and it wasn’t good news, either: “Kids in 2000 were about 15% less fit than their parents were when they were kids.”

And while we are now on the upswing, with kids’ fitness levels improving instead of sliding like they once were, the research is showing our kids still aren’t as fit as we were.

But an improvement is an improvement, and we will take it. A 2003 update of the study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which used the PACER test on 1 millions kids ages 9-17, showing the decline has slowed down with “fitness levels plateauing over the past decade.”

Maybe there is no replacement for letting your kids free-range until the street light comes on, and giving them more time to run around, play in the backyard catching fireflies, and taking off on their bikes down the street with friends for hours.

The article concludes that from 2000 to 2014 “the strongest indicator of a country’s fitness level was the gap between rich and poor,” and says the biggest drops in kids’ aerobic fitness levels were found in countries where the gap between high-income families and low-income families was the greatest.

The good news is we are getting our kids fit again, and hopefully these habits will stick and become a way of life for them. An increase in physical fitness, especially aerobic fitness, means future generations will be healthier overall and less likely to struggle with problems such as chronic illness, some cancers, and heart disease.

Perhaps we aren’t where we need to be yet, and we need to remember fitness isn’t about athletic abilities or being thin or how much you weigh — it’s about overall health. Which is why it’s important we are making gains in the right direction — that definitely counts for something.

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