America’s Children & Adolescents, Among The Least Physically Fit Across 50 Countries

Physical fitness is one of the most prevalent problems of the American population. The United States' children and youth are among the least physically fit across 50 countries, according to a study conducted by a research team.

The study from the University of North Dakota and the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) analyzed 20-meter shuttle data or the beep test of 1.1 million children aged between 9 and 17 years old in 50 countries. The U.S. is at the 47th spot and Canada landed the 19th ranking. The top five fittest nations are Tanzania, Iceland, Estonia, Norway and Japan.

"If all the kids in the world were to line up for a race, the average American child would finish at the foot of the field," Grant Tomkinson, the study's senior author and associate professor of kinesiology in the UND College of Education & Human Development, declared. Tomkinson added that Canada has moderate standing, given how it placed in the middle of the list.

Justin Lang, the study's lead author from the CHEO, said that it's important to compare children's physical fitness in the U.S. and in Canada against other countries with fitter kids and youth. This way, these healthier countries can be a good example to those in the bottom ranking.

"Kids who are aerobically fit tend to be healthy, and kids who are healthy are apt to be healthy adults. So studying aerobic fitness in the early years is very insightful to overall population health," Lang added.

The study also found that income inequality plays a huge part in physical fitness or aerobic fitness. Countries with a small gap between the rich and poor people have better physical fitness.

Childhood obesity in the U.S. has more than doubled in the past 30 years. In 2012, 18 percent of kids aged 6 to 11 are obese from seven percent in 1980. Twenty-one percent of adolescents aged 12 to 19 are obese from just five percent over the same period, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Obese children and youth have higher chances of developing cardiovascular disease such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Obese children and youth encounter bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological issues including poor self-esteem and stigmatization. The long-term effects of obesity on children and youth are heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer (breast, colon, kidney, pancreas, and ovary, among others,) and osteoarthritis.

Children and adolescents aged six to 17 should have 60 minutes (one hour) or more of physical activity every day, the CDC noted. This includes aerobic activities and exercises that strengthen their muscles and bones.

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