During the course of the last three decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 19 has nearly tripled.
Even more recently, results from the 2011—2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, using measured heights and weights, indicate that an estimated 16.9 percent of U.S. children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 years are obese, and another 14.9 percent are considered overweight. American teenagers now only average 12 minutes of vigorous activity per day.
The benefits of exercise are seen in the earliest ages of childhood development. Improved cardiovascular health, reduced risk of hypertension/diabetes/obesity and improved self-esteem are but a few of the positive effects of routine physical activity.
Although levels of physical activity decline naturally as a person ages, behaviors established during childhood persist throughout adulthood. Simply stated, regular and habitual physical activity during childhood translates to an active adult lifestyle.
In recognizing the benefits of physical activity, we should recognize the following barriers to an active lifestyle:
■ School factors such as poor participation or poor performance with physical education classes
■ Personal factors such as gender and lower educational level/performance
■ Cultural factors, such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status (which is one of the strongest predictors of physical activity levels)
■ Environmental factors such as the availability and proximity of safe opportunities for activity
■ Excessive playing of video games, watching television and surfing the Internet.
Diligence should be taken to implement specific solutions to promote physical activity among our youth.
Understanding the benefits of exercise, being aware of barriers to exercise and actively overcoming these barriers with children and parents are a big part in fighting the obesity epidemic that challenges this great country. Motivation of patients, and often creation of patient specific solutions to do so — such as increasing to 30-50 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most (preferably all) days of the week — should be a high priority for every physician.