Children are our future and for it to be a secure one, their staggering rates of inactivity must be addressed
The evolution of technology has reached a point where pretty much anything is available at the touch of a button. Shopping, learning, working and entertainment can all be accessed from the comfort of our own homes, on a train or sat in a cafe. But it’s coming at a price; and a relatively crucial one at that. Health. And as technology changes the way we live, those who will suffer most will be our children.
Last week, two studies emerged in the media that really hit home just how inactive children are becoming and the role technology may be playing.
The first, a UK study of 6,500 children aged seven to eight, found that only 51% achieved the recommended hour of physical activity each day, with girls (38%) proving to be far less active than boys (63%). The second study revealed that the average British child gets their first mobile phone aged around 12, but nearly one in 10 has one by the age of five. Yes, five. It begs the question; do these two issues come hand in hand? As children are given mobile devices for communicating, playing games and watching TV programmes at an earlier and earlier age, is the result that they become less active?
Although these studies are UK specific, they are just the tip of a very large iceberg. For instance, in the US, only 29% of high school students had participated in at least 60 minutes of physical activity on each of the seven days before the survey. Similarly, a 2008 study in Spain found that just 48% of six to 18 years old did at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. The same research highlighted that 49% of girls and 37% of boys in Spain did not do any sports in their free time.
Statistics such as these warrant attention and action. It’s during childhood when habits are ingrained and the freedom exists for active play and movement. The worry is, participation in physical activity usually declines as young people get older. If inactivity figures are currently as high as these in children, what hope do they have as adults?
In 2008, around 31% of adults worldwide aged 15 and over were insufficiently active; again, women more so than men (34% versus 28%). But as these figures were released over five years ago, they’re likely to now be far higher, especially considering the statistics emerging on inactivity in children.
The world is slowing down, but as a result, the number of people who develop long-term conditions is increasing, as are carbon emissions that accompany a sedentary lifestyle. Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide and approximately 3.2 million deaths each year are attributable to insufficient physical activity. The only way we can start to bring this number down substantially is to focus on education and active encouragement in children. They are our future and targeted efforts need to be focused far more here.
Dr Paul Zollinger-Read, chief medical officer, Bupa