Steps For Activating Kids: Get Outside

from Wildlife Promise

Usually I blog about climate change, but right now my mind is on running and jumping. Or lack thereof.

A young boy with binoculars

Binoculars are outstanding.

I just read an interesting (and scary) post over at the Public Library of Science blogs on the stunning inactivity of modern American kids. NWF has experts on that topic, and I’m certainly not one of them—but I do remember countless hours spent trapping* woodlice in pickle jars and playing wiffle home run derby** with my younger brother, so I feel somewhat qualified to weigh in on what an utter shame all this is.

Peter Janiszewski, Ph.D.:

Fast-forward some 20 years later, and where do we find the youth of today?

Too often, not moving, according to a recent study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise by Tudor-Locke et al. (senior author of the study, Peter Katzmarzyk, was a professor which taught both Travis and me in grad school).

Briefly, the authors used data from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey which included accelerometer data measuring the number of steps taken by children (ages 6-11) and youth (ages 12-19) in the US.

The authors of the study, available here if you have a subscription, used accelerometer-collected data from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to see how many steps a typical kid takes in a day—galloping around third, jumping puddles, running in the cafeteria, whatever.

Tudor-Locke, Johnson and Katzmarzyk re-worked the stats to account for unusually generous accelerometers (the devices apparently counted some small, non-step movements as steps) and arrive at a more accurate picture of kid movement (though still probably not as accurate as the dotted lines that followed Billy and Jeffy in Family Circus).

What they found was a little sad:

Results: US children average approximately 13,000 (boys) and 12,000 (girls) uncensored accelerometer-determined steps per day. Comparable values for male and female youth are 11,000 and 9000 uncensored accelerometer-determined steps per day, respectively. Censoring low-force steps reduces uncensored values by approximately 2600 steps per day overall, shifts distributions to the left, and shows that almost 42% of US male children and almost 21% of female children are sedentary as interpreted against expected values for steps per day in childhood using a pedometer-based scale.

Conclusions: Regardless of censoring or not, across age, the US data show a peak value at 6 yr followed by generally consistent declines in steps per day values throughout childhood and into youth.

Dr. Janiszewski again:

More than anything else, this study should act as another reminder to encourage your kids to go outside and play. It is a testament to our current state that I seem to always over-react when I see kids just playing outside – it has become such a rare sighting.

I’ve noticed this too. Whenever I see groups of kids running around aimlessly near my apartment building, I find I’m unexpectedly heartened. I mean, that used to be your mission in life if you were a kid. When did it become some kind of extracurricular activity?

If this irks you like it does me, visit greenhour.org or our Be Out There page for resources to make outdoor play a regular part of life for kids. If you actually HAVE children—I don’t, though I have my eye on some sea-monkeys—take ‘em outside this weekend.

*- And releasing!

**- I often pretended to be Jim Leyritz. My brother is a LOT better than me.

Usually I blog about climate change, but right now my mind is on running and jumping. Or lack thereof.

I just read an interesting (and scary) post

(http://blogs.plos.org/obesitypanacea/2010/11/19/how-inactive-are-todays-kids/) over at the Public

Library of Science blogs on the stunning inactivity of modern American kids. NWF has experts on that

topic, and I’m certainly not one of them—but I do remember countless hours spent trapping* woodlice in

pickle jars and playing wiffle home run derby** with my younger brother, so I feel somewhat qualified to

weigh in on what an utter shame all this is.

Peter Janiszewski, Ph.D.:

QUOTE
Fast-forward some 20 years later, and where do we find the youth of today?

Too often, not moving, according to a recent study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise by

Tudor-Locke et al. (senior author of the study, Peter Katzmarzyk, was a professor which taught both

Travis and me in grad school).

Briefly, the authors used data from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey which

included accelerometer data measuring the number of steps taken by children (ages 6-11) and youth (ages

12-19) in the US.
QUOTE

The authors of the study, available here

((http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2010&issue=12000&article=00013&type=ab

stract) if you have a subscription, used accelerometer

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accelerometer)-collected data from the 2005-2006 National Health and

Nutrition Examination Survey to see how many steps a typical kid takes in a day—galloping around

third, jumping puddles, running in the cafeteria, whatever.

Tudor-Locke, Johnson and Katzmarzyk re-worked the stats to account for unusually generous accelerometers

(the devices apparently counted some small, non-step movements as steps) and arrive at a more accurate

picture of kid movement (though still probably not as accurate as the dotted lines

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Family_Circus#Dotted_lines) that followed Billy and Jeffy in Family

Circus).

What they found

(http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2010&issue=12000&article=00013&type=abs

tract) was a little sad:

QUOTE
Results: US children average approximately 13,000 (boys) and 12,000 (girls) uncensored

accelerometer-determined steps per day. Comparable values for male and female youth are 11,000 and 9000

uncensored accelerometer-determined steps per day, respectively. Censoring low-force steps reduces

uncensored values by approximately 2600 steps per day overall, shifts distributions to the left, and

shows that almost 42% of US male children and almost 21% of female children are sedentary as interpreted

against expected values for steps per day in childhood using a pedometer-based scale.

Conclusions: Regardless of censoring or not, across age, the US data show a peak value at 6 yr followed

by generally consistent declines in steps per day values throughout childhood and into youth.
QUOTE

Dr. Janiszewski again:

QUOTE
More than anything else, this study should act as another reminder to encourage your kids to go outside

and play. It is a testament to our current state that I seem to always over-react when I see kids just

playing outside – it has become such a rare sighting.
QUOTE

I’ve noticed this too. Whenever I see groups of kids running around aimlessly near my apartment

building, I find I’m unexpectedly heartened. I mean, that used to be your mission in life if you were a

kid. When did it become some kind of extracurricular activity?

If this irks you like it does me, visit greenhour.org

(http://www.nwf.org/Get-Outside/Be-Out-There/Why-Be-Out-There/What-is-a-Green-Hour.aspx) or our Be Out

There page (http://www.nwf.org/Get-Outside/Be-Out-There/Why-Be-Out-There.aspx) for resources to make

outdoor play a regular part of life for kids. If you actually HAVE children—I don’t, though I have my

eye on some sea-monkeys—take ‘em outside this weekend.