Our Children’s Health — A Call to Action

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Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN, ACSM
Your Personal Trainer:

I recently attended the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Northwest Chapter in Seattle.  ACSM is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world.  Its goal is to advance and integrate scientific research into practical applications of exercise science.  My goal is to pass that information on to you.

One of the topics presented this year was “Youth Failing Physical Fitness.”  It graphed a disturbing trend.  “From 1980-2004, the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children has more than tripled.” 1 We are seeing the onset of adult diseases in our youth, those diseases once thought of as diseases of aging:  type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

The two distinct types of diabetes were once referred to as juvenile onset and adult onset.  Juvenile diabetes is now called type 1 and adult onset is now called type 2 because our youth are now presenting with the adult onset version.  “There is now a generation of children who may not outlive their parents due to the diseases associated with obesity, unless we reverse this trend.”2

The sedentary lifestyles that affect adults also affect our children and for many of the same reasons–television, computers, video games and other assorted sit-down technologies. Add to that the consumption of high calorie, low nutrient and constantly available fast foods and the energy equation is up-ended:  calories consumed far exceed calories expended.

Research conducted by Dr. Kenneth Cooper of the Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas, confirms that physically fit students are more likely to do well in school and less likely to be disciplinary problems.  Unfortunately, physical education programs are often the first to go when school budgets are cut.  Texas is the first state to require physical fitness assessment testing of public school students thanks to the efforts of Dr. Cooper.  His research in 2008 also disclosed that fitness levels declined with each subsequent grade, reaching a low at 12th grade.  “The impact exercise has on the growing brain is unparalleled.  Increased exercise improves cardiovascular health, and that helps the brain function more efficiently and enhances its ability to learn.”3   Exercise is also essential for developing strong bones.  “About 25% of peak bone mass (the genetically determined amount of bone mineral in the skeleton) is developed during puberty (ages 12 to 17).” 4 This at a time when physical education and activity are often minimal or absent.  Children and adolescents should be physically active most days of the week for sixty minutes through physical education classes, running and jumping activities at recess, and by spending less time on video games and more time on physical games.

Our children are in trouble.  We as parents, teachers, school administrators, health and fitness professionals, city, state and federal politicians, owe it to our children to encourage health and fitness.  It will serve them well for life.  The evolution of technology has led to the devolution of our health.  Yes, we need health care reform but more urgently we need lifestyle reform.  Obesity is a national epidemic in both children and adults.  Can we reverse this trend?   We can but it will take a conscious effort to make wellness a national priority.  It is up to each one of us to help make it our own priority.

Sources:

1, 2 Childhood Obesity, ACSM Current Comment, Felicia D. Stoler, MS, RD, FACSM
3   The Cooper Institute Announces FITNESSGRAM Correlation Data, 3/9/2009.
4   Women’s Health and Fitness Guide, Kettles, Cole, Wright, 2006

Yours in Fitness,

Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM