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Many children cannot run as fast as their parents used to when young, study says

Published: Monday, Dec. 2 2013 8:50 a.m. MST

Children participating in the NFL's Play 60 program run onto the field during player introductions prior to an NFL football game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans in Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012.

Phelan M. Ebenhack, Associated Press

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The speed at which children run has slowed down over the course of a generation, according to research involving millions of children in dozens of countries. Experts say the decline has been a fairly consistent 5 percent drop in speed every decade.

The study by researchers at the University of South Australia is based on 46 years of data collected from more than 25 million children in 28 countries. It is being introduced at the American Heart Association's annual scientific meeting in Dallas. According to the data, children run a mile about 90 seconds slower than their parents did some 30 years ago, said a BBC article.

"In fact, about 30 percent to 60 percent of the declines in endurance running performance can be explained by increases in fat mass," lead researcher Dr. Grant Tomkinson of the University of South Australia told the BBC.

"Young people can be fit in different ways. They can be strong like a weightlifter, or flexible like a gymnast, or skillful like a tennis player. But not all of these types of fitness relate well to health. The most important type of fitness for good health is cardiovascular fitness, which is the ability to exercise vigorously for a long time, like running multiple laps around an oval track," Tomkinson told Rebekah Marcarelli of Headlines and Global News.

The study noted that worldwide, cardiovascular endurance — which experts measure by assessing how far kids can run in a certain amount of time — has dropped about 5 percent every decade. It's true in both boys and girls and across ages from 9 to 17. That decline in performance is also linked to obesity, so some countries do worse than others, especially Western countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that children need about an hour of exercise each day, either as a chunk or in smaller segments that add up. CDC has an online section devoted to promoting physical activity.

Today contributor Joan Raymond wrote that obesity isn't the only issue. Tomkinson told her that children also "have to contend with an environment that is toxic to activity."

“It’s not that kid’s today can’t perform as well as, say, their parents, but it’s just that they don’t perform as well,” he told Raymond. His list of causes also included a lack of green space to play, suburbanization, the fact that physical activity programs in schools are different now and that watching TV or playing video games has increased.

“Kids aren’t getting enough opportunities to build up that activity over the course of the day. Many schools, for economic reasons, don’t have any physical education at all. Some rely on recess to provide exercise," Dr. Stephen Daniels, a University of Colorado pediatrician and spokesman for the heart association, told the Associated Press.

"The decline in fitness seems to be leveling off in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and perhaps in the last few years in North America," the AP article said. "However, it continues to fall in China, and Japan never had much falloff — fitness has remained fairly consistent there. About 20 million of the 25 million children in the studies were from Asia."

The American Heart Association has a heart attack risk calculator for ordinary folks on its website, designed to help assess how factors like smoking, high cholesterol or obesity that contribute to heart attack or stroke might impact one's health. It's not the same one that has been developed for m who need to be able to diagnose a patient's risk and help develop a health action plan.

EMAIL: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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