Last month I wrote about the importance of regular physical activity for adults and kids of all ages to highlight National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH) released the 2015 national, state, and large urban school district Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results. Just in time for summer, these results further corroborate the need to be more intentional in getting, and keeping, our youth active.
The YRBS does not include elementary or middle school students. Its sole focus is to monitor six categories of health-risk behaviors among students in grades 9–12 attending U.S. high schools. These behaviors contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adults, including:
- behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence
- tobacco use
- alcohol and other drug use
- sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection
- unhealthy dietary behaviors
- inadequate physical inactivity
Youth need 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day to improve muscular fitness, bone and heart health and to help maintain a healthy weight. The type of physical activity is irrelevant as long as it increases heart rate and makes them breathe hard. But, survey results indicate that only 27 percent of high school-aged kids in the U.S. are getting the recommended minutes every day of the week. In New York, the percentage is even lower at 23 percent.
The YRBS also monitors two health outcomes: asthma and obesity. The rate of overweight and obesity among high school students in NYS is lower than the national average: 27 percent vs. 30 percent, respectively. While that is good news, having over ¼ of our high school population at risk of lifelong chronic diseases (e.g. cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc.) and premature death due to excess weight is not.
Finding creative ways to get students physically active before, during and after the school day in NYS would be beneficial as physical education classes are not as consistently required as in many other states. Only 18 percent of NYS high schoolers get P.E. every school day, while 30 percent of the national population does.
And, now that summer vacation starts in a few days, even those meager P.E. minutes will be lost, and many kids will be at an even greater risk of gaining more weight. While many adults nostalgically recall long summer days filled with pick-up baseball games, swimming and bike riding, and impromptu games with neighborhood kids, today’s youth are committing many more minutes to screen time than to any type of physical activity. YRBS results indicate that, nationally, 42 percent of youth spent three or more hours per day playing video or computer games or using a computer for something that was not school work (on an average school day). That percentage has doubled since 2005. On a somewhat positive note, however, television watching has decreased significantly in the past 15 years with only 25 percent of national youth reporting watching three or more hours per day (on an average school day), though it’s likely that those t.v. watchers transferred to their computer screens. Television data is the same for New York youth while 37 percent of youth claimed to log three or more hours of daily screen time.
So, we have our work cut out for us this summer! As with adults, recommended daily minutes for youth should be spent doing activities that are moderately to vigorously intense and can be divided into several periods that add up to at least one hour each day. Muscle-and bone–strengthening activities need to be included in addition to aerobic activity. Remember that changing activities is good for the body because it targets different muscles, stimulates the brain and staves off boredom. Don’t forget to take advantage of our many great local resources when planning physical activities for your kids:
It’s important for both parents and youth to remember that the benefits of daily physical activity include more than just weight control and increased fitness levels. Active kids experience less anxiety and depression; have increased opportunities to connect with others; and often have a fresh outlook on problems or projects.
Best wishes for a safe, fun and active summer (which includes adequate amounts of sleep, water and sunscreen as well)!