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Kids and teens: The slow slide to a sedentary life

July 15, 2008 |  1:00 pm

Grades aren’t the only things parents of children and teens should be keeping an eye on. Their physical activity should be scrutinized as well, considering that from ages 9 to 15, some kids could fall into a steady downward spiral of lethargy.

TvkidsIt shouldn't be surprising that an uptick in video game playing, television watching and computer surfing is probably to blame for the fact that as kids grow older, their time spent moving may greatly decrease, according to a recent study.

In research released today in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., some 1,000 children were given accelerometers to track their daily movements, starting at age 9 in 2000 and ending in 2006 when the participants turned 15. The findings were taken from data collected for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s study of early child care and youth development, a longitudinal study of children’s health and development.

In terms of activity, things started out well — the 9-year-olds engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity about three hours a day on weekdays and weekends. But as they got older, that amount of time started to diminish — weekdays by 38 minutes per year, and weekends by 41 minutes per year. By the time the study subjects reached 15, they were moving only 49 minutes on weekdays and 35 minutes on weekends. That’s far less than the recommendation of at least one hour a day of moderate to vigorous activity.

"This is a reflection of what’s happened in society in general," says James Griffin, the NICHD science officer for the study.

Although a growing interest in computers, television and video games probably accounted for less time moving, Griffin says those may not have been the only culprits. As kids grow into teens, they begin to shun family activities such as hiking. In early adolescence, some become interested in team sports and others not, giving the latter fewer options for exercise. Griffin points out that even some who participate in soccer or Little League are often shuttled by car to and from games, spend little time actually playing, and chow down on fast food afterward.

"I think the message is about wanting to keep up the good habits that kids have around ages 9 to 11," says Griffin, "to prevent that drop-off. That can be as simple as encouraging them to take walks, as well as organized sports or bike riding."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images