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Why kids today are nearly a third less fit than their parents were

There are record highs of obesity and physical inactivity among children.



Active group of kids spending happy time on summer sunset at meadow
(ESB Professional via Shutterstock)

By Pol Allingham via SWNS

Kids today are nearly a third less aerobically fit than their parents at the same age and it could be partly down to climate change, a study has revealed.

Scientists say that record highs of obesity and physical inactivity among children leave many struggling to regulate their body temperature in heat leading them to do less exercise.

Environment physiologist Dr. Shawnda Morrison sounded the alarm in a comprehensive review of studies on the topic.

She says physical fitness is the key to tolerating higher temperatures and unfit children facing global warming could face heat-related health problems such as dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

According to Dr. Morrison’s study, published in the journal Temperature, children are 30 percent less aerobically fit than their parents were at their age with few children reaching World Health Organisation’s recommendation of 60 minutes of exercise a day.

Dr. Morrison criticized failures to sufficiently prioritize children’s health needs in climate change policy, arguing more must be done to get children exercising so they will cope in a hotter world.

The physiologist, who works in the Faculty of Sport at the University of Ljubljana and has over 20 years of experience researching sports performance in hot environments, highlighted a study of 457 schoolboys aged five to 12 in Thailand which found overweight kids were twice as likely to have difficulty tolerating their body temperature as those of normal weight when exercising outdoors.

Another study found more children attended emergency departments during hotter days, with young children more likely to need emergency care.

The Covid pandemic made children less likely to exercise, particularly when schools closed and Dr. Morrison fears rising heat could similarly obstruct children from physical activity.

Parents may tell their children it’s too hot to play, preventing unfit youngsters from maintaining even the minimal physical activity requirements to be healthy.

Higher temperatures and changes in weather patterns are projected to lead to outbreaks of new diseases, which could also restrict children’s movement and further devastate their health.

Dr. Morrison noted children regulate heat differently, they are not just smaller adults.

Cute asian children is bored and tired with doing homework on desk in the room. education concept
(Perfect Angle Images via Shutterstock)

They sweat less, increasing blood flow to the skin to cool down instead, and this makes their hearts work harder than adults.

Despite this, previous research on rising temperatures’ impact on physiological health has been conducted on adults and the little research on kids and heat happened 15-30 years ago when they were much fitter.

Dr. Morrison said: “Fitter adults are better able to tolerate higher temperatures, due to a combination of physical, behavioral and psychological factors.

“Yet, as the world warms, children are the least fit they have ever been.

"It is imperative that children are encouraged to do daily physical activity to build up, and maintain, their fitness, so that they enjoy moving their bodies and it doesn’t feel like 'work' or 'a chore' to them.”

She recommends outdoor activities, combining sports like football or basketball with active play among friends and family.

Physical education (PE) is the best, most cost-effective way to increase fitness and propel them into exercising throughout their lives.

Families are important to ensure this improvement happens, particularly if schools offer little PE.

Dr. Morrison says: “Do what you love to do, whether it's a family bike ride or rollerblade, a stroll through the woods or walking the dog.

“Make sure the activity raises everyone's heart rate, enthusiasm, and positive energy, and importantly, try not to completely avoid the heat but choose times of the day that are less hot (mornings/evenings) to keep active since we need to keep ourselves moving in this new warming world.”

In her research, Dr. Morrison, who is also the Founder of Active Healthy Kids Slovenia, reviewed over 150 medical and scientific studies on how children maintain physical activity, exercise, and tolerate heat, and how this might change with rising global temperatures.

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