ERIC Identifier: ED416204
Publication Date: 1998-01-00
Author: Summerfield, Liane M.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Teaching and Teacher Education Washington DC.
Promoting Physical Activity and Exercise among Children. ERIC
Physical inactivity has become a serious problem in the United States. More
than half of U.S. adults do not meet recommended levels of moderate physical
activity, and one-fourth engage in no leisure time physical activity at all
(PHYSICAL ACTIVITY, 1996). Inactivity is more prevalent among those with lower
income and education, and, beginning in adolescence, affects females more than
males (NIH, 1995; Physical Activity, 1996). A pattern of inactivity, also known
as sedentism, begins early in life, making the promotion of physical activity
among children imperative. This Digest discusses the importance of and ways to
foster activity and exercise in children.
WHY IS PHYSICAL ACTIVITY IMPORTANT?
Physical activity has
been defined as "bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in
energy expenditure" (Pate, Pratt et al., 1995). There is no debate about the
value of physical exertion--regular physical activity has significant health
benefits, and even modest increases in energy expenditure can have
health-enhancing effects, including:
Reduction in chronic disease risk--hypertension, type 2 diabetes, high blood
lipids, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Even among children and
adolescents, physical activity can prevent or delay the development of
hypertension and can reduce blood pressure in those young people who already
have hypertension (Physical Activity, 1996);
*Lowered risk of colon cancer;
*Increase in bone density;
*Reduction of anxiety, improvement in body image and mood;
*Development of physical fitness;
*Promotion of weight control through caloric expenditure. This benefit is of
particular importance to children, who are experiencing the same epidemic of
overweight as adults.
CHILDHOOD OBESITY: A CAUSE FOR CONCERN
More children today
are overweight or obese than ever before. "Overweight" means that the individual
weighs more than is recommended for a given height; when this excess weight is
in the form of fat, health problems may develop. "Obesity" is an excess of body
fat. In children obesity has been variously defined as
>=20% over the recommended weight for height;
>=85th percentile for Body Mass Index, which is calculated by dividing weight
in kilograms by height in meters squared; or
>=25% of weight as fat for boys and >=30% of weight as fat for girls
(STRATEGY DEVELOPMENT, 1996).
When the percent fat definition is used, data indicate that 11% of 6-11 year
olds and 14% of 12-17 year olds are obese (STRATEGY DEVELOPMENT, 1996), double
the prevalence of 30 years ago (CDC, 1996). This is of particular concern
because body weight and overfatness in children are significant cardiovascular
disease risk factors, and the risk tracks into adolescence and young adulthood
if not checked in childhood. In addition, obese children often experience
exclusion from social groups and low self-esteem.
Particularly detrimental to health is central (abdominal) body fat, which is
linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Studies examining the
relationship between physical activity and abdominal fat suggest that those who
are more active are less likely to deposit fat in the abdominal area (NIH,
1995). Physical activity is thus a key element in the prevention and treatment
of both chronic disease and obesity.
HOW MUCH PHYSICAL ACTIVITY IS ENOUGH?
Health benefits can
be derived simply from becoming more physically active, but the greatest
benefits come from engaging in planned and structured exercise. Cardiovascular
risk factors can be reduced and physical fitness enhanced with low to moderate
levels of physical activity (40-60% of a person's maximal aerobic capacity)
(Blair & Connelly, 1996). And, low- to moderate-intensity activity is less
likely than vigorous exercise to cause musculoskeletal injury and sudden heart
attack death during exercise (a very rare occurrence even for vigorous
exercisers), while it is more likely to promote continued adherence to activity
(Blair & Connelly, 1996; NIH, 1995).
Current recommendations state that children and adults should strive for at
least 30 minutes daily of moderate intensity physical activity (Pate, Pratt et
al., 1995). An alternate approach that may be equally beneficial would be to
engage in 5- (Blair & Connelly, 1996) to 10-minute (NIH, 1995) bouts of
moderate intensity activity throughout the day, for a total accumulation of at
least 30 minutes for adolescents and adults and 60 minutes for children
(Pangrazi, Corbin, & Welk, 1996). Walking briskly or biking for pleasure or
transportation, swimming, engaging in sports and games, participating in
physical education, and doing tasks in the home and garden may all contribute to
accumulated physical activity.
Children and adults who already engage in regular activity may benefit from
more vigorous activity. The specific amount of energy expenditure needed by
children to decrease their risk of cardiovascular disease is not known; for
adults, approximately 3 kcals/kg of body weight/day has been recommended
(Zwiren, 1993). Weight in pounds can be converted to kg by dividing by 2.2.
Thus, a 140-pound person (140/2.2 = 63.6 kg) should expend about 192 kcals/day
(63.6 X 3).
HOW CAN WE PROMOTE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AMONG YOUNG PEOPLE? QUALITY DAILY PHYSICAL EDUCATION
In addition to being physically active,
children need to learn fundamental motor skills and develop health related
physical fitness (cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance,
flexibility, and body composition). Physical education, provided at school, is
an ideal way to encourage activity and develop fitness among children and, for
many children, will be their only preparation for an active lifestyle. For this
reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National
Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), and the American Heart
Association all recommend comprehensive daily physical education for children
Over the years, state requirements for daily physical education have eroded,
and today no states currently have such a requirement (HEALTHY PEOPLE, 1995).
Not surprisingly, only a quarter of high school students participate in daily
physical education, and only 19% of high school students are active for at least
20 minutes a day during physical education class (PHYSICAL ACTIVITY, 1996). The
recent School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS), conducted by CDC,
determined that just 47% of middle/junior high schools and 26% of high schools
require at least 3 years of physical education (Pate, Small et al., 1995).
Physical education offers many benefits: development of motor skills needed
for enjoyable participation in physical activities; promotion of physical
fitness; increased energy expenditure; and promotion of positive attitudes
toward an active lifestyle. Evidence also exists that physical education may
enhance academic performance, self-concept, and mental health (Allensworth,
Lawson, Nicholson, & Wyche, 1997).
OTHER WAYS TO INCORPORATE ACTIVITY INTO SCHOOLS
to physical education, schools can promote physical activity in a variety of
other ways (much of this is based on CDC, 1997):
*Promote collaboration between physical education and classroom teachers. For
example, physical education teachers might provide ideas for "fitness breaks" to
classroom teachers, where 5-minute aerobic activities could be used to break up
the school day.
*Provide extracurricular physical activity programs. Interested teachers and
parents might be encouraged to establish developmentally appropriate clubs
and/or intramural activities of a competitive and noncompetitive nature. Walking
clubs, in-line skating, jumping rope, water aerobics, and intramural swim teams
provide a few examples.
*Coordinate physical activities with community agencies. Schools might allow
use of school facilities by community agencies that sponsor physical activity
programs, facilitate training programs for volunteer youth coaches, invite
community groups to an "activity fair" for students in the school gymnasium, or
provide a listing of community physical activity resources to students.
*Encourage and enable parental involvement in physical activity. Parental
activity level is very important in promoting activity among children. Schools
can help encourage activity in parents by sending home activity homework that
parents and children do together, recruiting parent volunteers for physical
education classes, and sponsoring parent-child activity programs at school.
*Provide physical and social environments that encourage and enable physical
activity. For example, schools might allow access to facilities before and after
school hours and during vacation periods, encourage teachers to provide time for
unstructured physical activity during recess and during physical education
class, and help school personnel to serve as active role models by enabling and
encouraging their own participation in physical activity.
Inactive adults have twice the mortality of
adults who are at least somewhat active (Blair & Connelly, 1996). Schools
that promote physical activity may have a significant impact on reducing
childhood obesity, chronic disease, and, ultimately, adult mortality. Insofar as
physical activity has been associated with increased academic performance,
self-concept, mood, and mental health, the promotion of physical activity and
exercise may also improve quality of life.
American Heart Association, 7272 Greenville
Avenue, Dallas, TX 75231. http://www.amhrt.org/%20
Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport, University of Minnesota, 203
Cooke Hall, 1900 University Avenue, S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455. (612) 625-7327.
National Association for Sport and Physical Education(NASPE), 1900
Association Drive, Reston, VA 20191; (703)476-3410. http:
References identified with an EJ or ED number have been abstracted and are in
the ERIC database. Journal articles (EJ) should be available at most research
libraries; most documents (ED) are available in microfiche collections at more
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Reproduction Service: (800) 443-ERIC.
Allensworth, D., Lawson, E., Nicholson, L., & Wyche, J. (Eds.). (1997).
SCHOOLS AND HEALTH: OUR NATION'S INVESTMENT. Washington, DC: National Academy
Blair, S. N., & Connelly, J. C. (1996). How much physical activity should
we do? The case for moderate amounts and intensities of physical activity.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (1996). Guidelines for school
health programs to promote lifelong healthy eating. MORBIDITY AND MORTALITY
WEEKLY REPORTS, 45(No. RR-9), 1-41.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (1997). Guidelines for school and
community programs to promote lifelong physical activity among young people.
MORBIDITY AND MORTALITY WEEKLY REPORTS, 46(No. RR-6), 1-36.
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(April 26, 1995). Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services,
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Pate, R. R., Small, M. L., Ross, J. G., Young, J. C., Flint, K. H., &
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PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND HEALTH: A REPORT OF THE SURGEON GENERAL. (1996).
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STRATEGY DEVELOPMENT WORKSHOP FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION ON WEIGHT AND OBESITY
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