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Walking Quiz
Which of the following in NOT a direct benefit of a regular walking regimen?
eeping Fit

Our Kids Need Help!

© Wayne L. Westcott PhD

The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Keeping Fit by Wayne L. Westcott PhD. View all columns in series
Dr. Westcott As an adult you are undoubtedly aware of health and fitness issues. Every television newscast carries a significant segment on medical concerns and related information, including regular exercise. Most magazines publish sections on fitness and many newspapers carry weekly columns about exercise. It would be difficult to find a community without a health club or certified personal trainers.

These and other sources keep you well-informed about the benefits of a physically active lifestyle, not the least of which is a reduced risk of obesity. The health problems associated include many serious diseases and metabolic disorders such as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, gall bladder disease, respiratory dysfunction, various forms of cancer, and osteoarthritis. With one in four adults classified as obese, and three out of four adults considered overfat, exercise is presently receiving the attention it deserves as a preventive measure and intervention technique.

Unfortunately, the exercise education and motivation directed towards men and women of all ages is almost absent in the lives of boys and girls. The results are all too obvious, with a 50 percent increase in childhood obesity over the past two decades. Understanding that overweight youth typically become overweight adults, this represents a very serious problem. It is also a problem that many adolescents recognize and try to address on their own. According to the 1999 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey Results, nearly half of all students are currently trying to lose weight. Unfortunately, the typical youth diet is not very healthful with only about 15 percent of the students eating enough fruits and vegetables, and just over 20 percent of the students drinking enough milk to meet their calcium requirements.

The news regarding youth physical activity patterns is not much more encouraging. The survey results reveal significant declines in both sports team participation and physical education class enrollment since 1993. According to the 1999 report, Massachusetts high school students watch an average of two hours of television on school days. However, only one-quarter of adolescents meet the minimum exercise recommendation of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week.

There are many reasons for the reduced participation rates and lower fitness levels characteristic of today's young people. In addition to watching at least two hours of television each day, most youth spend similar amounts of time viewing videos, going to movies and surfing the internet. While these passive pursuits are not necessarily bad, collectively they certainly leave little time for doing physical activities.

With the possible exception of basketball in some neighborhoods, kids do not come home from school and play pick-up sports as they did in the 1950's and 1960's. Times have also changed with respect to daily chores and physical tasks in the house and yard. Even children who work do so differently than in past decades. For example, cutting the lawn is now accomplished by riding a lawnmower rather than pushing one, clearing the driveway is now done with a snowblower instead of a snow shovel, and removing leaves is presently approached with a leaf blower rather than a rake. Most boys and girls have never even lifted the garage door, as these are typically controlled automatically by electric motors.

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About The Author
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., is fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA. He is strength training consultant for numerous national organizations, such as the American Council on Exercise, the American Senior Fitness Association, and the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation, and editorial advisor for many publications, including Prevention, Shape, and......more
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