In today’s society, children have too many screen-time distractions (i.e., television, video games and cell phones) that provide them with very similar brain stimulation children used to get from interacting with the outdoor environment or by simply playing outside. As a result, children spend more time interacting with electronic screens and less time being physically active. As a consequence, we now have the fattest population of children on record in the United States and in many countries around the world. The latest statistics from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the Global Burden of Disease Study (195 countries) reports that 17% of the children (more than 12 million; 1 out of every 6) in the United States and 5% across the globe (more than 107.7 million) are obese, meaning that their growth pattern is above the 95th percentile for their age (2). The problem has progressed to include even the youngest of our children, preschool-aged children from 2-5 years of age. As obesity is related to such chronic diseases as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, this generation of children are projected to be the first to live a shorter lifespan than previous generations as a consequence of these chronic illnesses.
One of the root causes of this obesity epidemic is a reduction in physical activity. But how much physical activity is enough to promote a healthy growth pattern in our children? According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines of Americans, children should get a daily dose of 60 minutes of quality physical activity (1). This recommended dose should include:
- Moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity (such as running, dancing, biking) for most of the 60 or more minutes per day
- Vigorous intensity activity (such as tag, bike riding, jump rope, running, karate, etc.) at least 3 days a week as part of this 60 or more minutes per day
- Muscle – or bone-strengthening activity (such as climbing, tug-of-war, jumping, gymnastics, basketball, resistance training, etc.) at least 3 days a week as part of this 60 or more minutes per day
However, despite these recommendations, in 2015, only 27.1% of high school students were physically active at least 60 minutes per day on all 7 days of the week, while 24.7% watched 3 or more hours of TV each day (4).
In response to this obesity crisis and the lack of spontaneous physical activity, parents involve their children in sports teams or other formal activities to ensure their children get enough physical activity or exercise in order to ward off these excessive growth patterns associated with childhood obesity. While youth sports play an important role in children and adolescent by promoting physical activity, research has shown that simply signing them up for summer soccer does not ensure they are getting the necessary dose of activity. Youth sports contributes only 23-60% of children’s daily dose of physical activity, while 43% of most sports practices are spent being inactive (3). And certain groups of children, like girls and overweight children, engage in less physical activity than boys or healthy weight children (5-8). Plus, it has been found that children are more likely to be physically active during free-play opportunities compared to organized sports games and practices (9).
This is why the Beyond Pulse team has created the Active Participation (AP) metric. This AP data point provides a percentage of time spent in physical activity for every practice for the team as a whole or for each individual player. With this, we can now take purposeful steps to help coaches maximize and manage the AP percentage in their practices with a concentrated effort on coaching behavior and techniques. Check out our dedicated blog post that dives deeper into how AP is measured and the full impact we believe this measurement can have on improving the standards of coaching across the entire youth sport spectrum.
While Beyond Pulse is taking great strides to promote more physical activity in youth soccer, there are still many questions about children’s physical activity recommendations. For example, should the current physical activity recommendations be the same for each child, or should they change as children grow and/or go through puberty? More specifically, does playing sports, such as soccer, provide the same amount of physical activity or burn the same number of calories for all children, or does this vary according to a child’s age, sex, or size?
While researchers ponder and hopefully one day unravel these many questions to better understand the nature of children’s physical activity, parents should focus on providing less opportunities for screen-time stimulation and more opportunities for good old-fashioned play time.
1. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee report, 2008. To the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Part A: Executive summary. Nutr. Rev. 2009;67(2):114-20.
2. Kushner RF, Kahan S. Introduction: The State of Obesity in 2017. Med. Clin. North Am. 2018;102(1):1-11.
3. Leek D, Carlson JA, Cain KL et al. Physical activity during youth sports practices. Arch. Pediatr. Adolesc. Med. 2011;165(4):294-9.
4. Organization WH. Young People’s Health in Context: Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) STudy: international report from the 2001/2002 survey. 2004.
5. Ridgers ND, Salmon J, Parrish AM, Stanley RM, Okely AD. Physical activity during school recess: a systematic review. Am. J. Prev. Med. 2012;43(3):320-8.
6. Sallis JF, Prochaska JJ, Taylor WC. A review of correlates of physical activity of children and adolescents. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2000;32(5):963-75.
7. Sarkin JA, T.L. McKenzie, J.F. Sallis. Gender Differences in Physical Activity during Fifth-Grade Physical Education Class. J Teach Phys Educ. 1997;17:99-106.
8. Stratton G, Ridgers ND, Fairclough SJ, Richardson DJ. Physical activity levels of normal-weight and overweight girls and boys during primary school recess. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007;15(6):1513-9.
9. Trost SG, Rosenkranz RR, Dzewaltowski D Physical activity levels among children attending after-school programs. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2008;40(4):622-9.