Couch Culture: Only a Quarter of U.S. Youth Get Recommended Exercise

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It’s no surprise that kids don’t exercise, but the first national survey documented exactly how inactive American children are.

In 2008, the U.S. government issued its first guidelines for physical activity, based on studies indicating which exercises people should try and how long they should be active in order to improve their health. The recommendations included daily physical activity of moderate to vigorous intensity for 60 minutes for children. But in the latest analysis of how well the advice is being followed, the National Center for Health Statistics found that only about 24.8% of youth surveyed in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)’s National Youth Fitness Survey got the recommended amount.

Young boys were more physically active than girls — 27% of boys met the guidelines compared to 22.5% of girls. Among boys, basketball was the most common way to exercise, followed by running, football and bike riding. For girls, running was the most common form of exercise, followed by walking, basketball and dancing.

The survey also revealed some unsurprising patterns between physical activity and weight; the percentage of boys who exercised dropped as their weight increased, confirming the vicious cycle between inactivity and obesity.

That suggests that public health campaigns such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! effort might make heavier kids a priority, since they face greater challenges in exercising. With one out of every three children in the U.S. now overweight or obese, the survey authors say encouraging more kids to become active is critical to reducing their risk of becoming adults with chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.