American Teens Even More Lacking In Physical Activity Than Once Thought, New Study Suggests

Just how lacking are America’s teenagers in terms of physical activity? According to a new study, the answer may be close to “very lacking,” as 19-year-olds were found to be as physically inactive as those aged 60-years-old and above.

A report from PsychCentral examined the findings of the study, which was conducted by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and involved a total of 12,529 participants of different genders and age groups. Each of the participants were asked to wear tracking devices for one consecutive week of monitoring; this allowed the researchers to determine which times of the day physical activity was at its lowest, and which times it was at its peak.

After analyzing the results, it was found that teenagers and children were less physically active than once thought, with teens living a similarly sedentary lifestyle as the average person aged 60 and up. The data also suggested that physical activity only increased in young adults after they turned 20, and began to decline progressively from the age of 35 onward.

PsychCentral noted that the findings were especially timely, as previous studies have suggested that a lack of exercise is contributing to America’s growing obesity problem, especially in young people.

In a statement, senior author Dr. Vadim Zipunnikov, an assistant professor in Bloomberg School’s Department of Statistics, said that the study also begs the question of what tools educational institutions can use to encourage physical activity in students.

“Activity levels at the end of adolescence were alarmingly low, and by age 19, they were comparable to 60-year-olds … For school-age children, the primary window for activity was the afternoon between 2 and 6 p.m. So the big question is how do we modify daily schedules, in schools for example, to be more conducive to increasing physical activity?”

The answers to the question of why young Americans live such sedentary lifestyles are typically easy to find. In 2015, a blog post from LiveStrong noted that close to half of Americans aged 12 to 21 lack physical activity routines, per data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This was attributed to several factors, including the prevalence of video games, cell phones, and other creature comforts that may tempt a young person away from exercise and other similar activities, as well as the rising trend of schools making physical education class optional for teenagers.

The new study’s data suggests that established guidance for physical activity in teenagers and children is not being satisfied by the majority of young Americans. The World Health Organization, for instance, recommends that children aged 5- to 17-years-old engage in at least an hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

Based on the study’s findings, a large percentage of boys and girls, especially female adolescents, don’t meet the WHO’s guidelines — over 25 percent of boys and 50 percent of girls in the 6-to-11-year-old age group failed the requirements, while over 50 percent of boys and 75 percent of girls in the 12-to-19-year-old age group didn’t make the cut.

Although senior author Zipunnikov did not offer his own specific suggestions on the tools that schools should use to encourage physical activity in children and teens, he believes that the study’s findings should force schools and other organizations to take time of day into account, while giving some attention, even to lower-intensity activities that nonetheless encourage young people to stay active.

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