A Growing Problem- Children and Inactivity


Statistics in recent years have shown that there has been an increase in inactivity and developments of obesity in children. This has raised many concerns over the last few years as obesity has been related to many health issues.  It has been indicated through statistics across the world that some countries have shown an increase in obesity, for example, 1 in 5 children in the United States are overweight. However, now in the UK the trend seems to be increasing, for example, 40% of all children between the ages of 5 & 8 are categorised as obese, have elevated blood pressure/cholesterol and are not active. These trends of obesity seem to be caused primararly by an unhealthy diet and not doing enough exercise. When you look at today’s fast paced society the amount of processed food that we consume comapred to only 10 years ago is staggering. The introduction of excessive sugar in our diets and in sports drinks have without doubt contributed heavily to childrens obesity levels. It seems that children in the UK under the age of 10 years do not get enough exercise to strengthen the heart and lungs and 1/3 of all kids from ages 4-17 meet the minimum standards C.V fitness, flexibility and abdominal/upper body strength. The Health Development Agency (1998), states that young people who currently do little activity should participate in physical activity of at least moderate intensity for at least half an hour per day. At least twice a week, young people should participate in activities that help to enhance and maintain muscular strength, flexibility and bone health. So in many cases why is this not happening?

There seem to be many factors that contribute to this, however some of the reasons indicate that times have changed, for example, 98% of homes in the U.K have televisions. I can remember 15 years ago I watched television but most of the leisure time was spent playing football in the park for hours on end. The influence of entertainment in the form of sedentary leisure pursuits for example, the DS Lite., computer games the latest 3D films are more of an interest and available to children today. With the demands of work and availability of time it also seems that an average parent has less time to spend being active with their children. Often, the only primary physical activities that our teens engage in are the hours they spend in physical education classes.

A multifaceted approach to this is needed. However, exercise can be viewed as an effective preventative measure against obesity.

Rember the Physiological benefits of exercise:

  • 20% of the blood flow from the heart goes to the brain, therefore helps boost brain function
  • Improves neural connections. Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein that nourishes neurons and helps them to maintain their health and regular functions. Rats have shown increased levels of BDNF in the hippocampus as a result of exercise
  • It has been found that physical exercise increases cerebral blood flow and levels of a brain cell growth hormone
  • Stimulate bone growth and density
  • Increase muscular strength and endurance
  • Improve their cardiovascular system
  • Improve their motor co-ordination skills
  • Defends disease like type 2 diabetes and controls cholesterol. Prevents or delays the development of high blood pressure and helps reduce blood pressure in some adolescents with hypertension
  • Fit athletes sustain fewer and less serious injuries
  • Habits formed during adolescence tend to continue into adulthood
  • Improves posture

There are also great Psychological benefits of exercise also:

  • Mood is enhanced as a result of the endorphins being released, these are substances manufactured by the brain that regulate emotions and pain perception, released into the blood stream causing stimulation
  • Exercise also provides a healthy outlet for pent up aggression, tension and frustration, resulting in a more stable mood
  • Can help to build their self-confidence
  • Children involved in regular exercise can help enhance social skills

With a greater awareness and education of what are children are doing can help to reduce the likelyhood of obseity in the future. Perhaps a change in our apporaches to food and exercise consumption will slowly help to bring down these statistics and improve the well being and development of children today. Consider some of the following:

    1. What types of foods does my child comsume at school and at home
    2. What role does exercise play in the childs life
    3. Are there healthy snacks in the house available
    4. How many fizzy drinks do they consume, including sports drinks
    5. What amount of time do they spend playing sport compared to playing the x-box
    6. What are the portion sizes like at dinner time
    7. What other interests do they have that involve physical activity