Researchers say boys have shown some minor improvements in physical activity, but girls remain at a high level of inactivity. Getty Images
Here’s What We Can Do About It
- A report by the World Health Organization concludes 80 percent of children between the ages of 11 and 17 aren’t physically active enough.
- The report stated that girls get less exercise than boys, possibly because of lack of access to programs.
- Experts say this global problem needs a multilayered approach to solve.
It’s not just kids in the United States.
Children worldwide aren’t getting enough physical activity.
That’s the main conclusion of a new World Health Organization (WHO) studyTrusted Source released today.
The researchers report that slightly more than 80 percent of adolescents ages 11 to 17 were insufficiently physically active in 2016.
WHO says it’s the first global estimates of adolescents’ physical activity levels, a major factor in obesity, diabetes, and other health problems.
How rich the country was didn’t matter much, although nations in the Asia-Pacific region had the highest rates of insufficient physical activity, at 89 percent.
What did matter was gender.
On average, girls got less physical activity than boys. That includes the United States, where the discrepancy was more than 15 percentage points.
The percentage of boys getting enough physical activity actually increased slightly between 2001 and 2016, while the percentage of girls stayed the same.
Overall, experts say, the study paints a picture of a global “pandemic” of insufficiency that will require a multipronged and perhaps even cross-border approach to rein in.
“In relation to the high levels of inactivity in so many countries, the decreases (in some countries) are still relatively small and levels are still high in most countries,” Regina Guthold, PhD, a scientist with WHO’s noncommunicable diseases department and the study’s lead author, told Healthline. “A lot of work remains to be done.”
Guthold says those small decreases could be due to actions such as school programs, increased participation in sports, creating new places for activities, and increased awareness of the importance of physical activity through education and media campaigns.
But, she said, “These actions seem to only have reached boys, not girls.”
In the United States, the overall percent of adolescents getting insufficient physical activity dropped from about 76 percent to 72 percent.
But that was largely driven by improvements in boys. Girls remained around 80 percent.
Guthold points to potential flaws in certain efforts to increase physical activity levels.
Organized sports or after-school programs may primarily reach boys. Girls may not feel as safe as boys in places such as public parks.
“To increase activity levels in girls, and close the gender gap, it will be very important to develop strategies that specifically address girls’ physical activity behavior,” she said.
There are two important aspects to be noted in the study, experts say.
One, the data is self-reported, notes Dr. Scott Kahan, MPH, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, D.C.
“This is an important study in that it gives us additional data across dozens of countries to help inform the long-term planning and goal of addressing inadequate physical activity,” Kahan told Healthline. “At the same time, we have to take the data with a grain of salt.”
He says that in countries like the United States, the increased messaging about the importance of physical activity may be leading to an unintended complication.
“It begs the question, do these results suggest adolescents are moving more, or that they recognize that it’s important to move more and therefore they say they’re moving more?” Kahan said. “This is a common challenge with self-reported survey data.”
The other issue is that the 2001 numbers were already so high: 85 percent for girls globally and 80 percent for boys.
“When you have 80 percent of kids who are inactive, it gets kind of hard to have much more than that,” said Dr. Blaise Nemeth, a pediatric orthopedist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health who has served on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.
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Fuente: / Source: www.healthline.com