The U.S. Physical Activity Report Card

For years, Americans have been dealing with startlingly high obesity rates in not just adults but – perhaps more unsettlingly – in children. But this is a frustratingly complex issue, especially when it comes to the nation’s youth. For children, obesity is the result of many factors. Diet, in the influence of parents and educators, active play and health education all play their parts in this drama.

In an effort to better understand the issue, and to help the population in general get a more comprehensive grasp on things, the National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP) Alliance has officially released a report card. This report grades us as a nation, using the all-too-familiar A to F grading system, on a variety of factors that effect the health of our children. So, here’s the big question: How’d we do?

Not so great, it turns out. Let’s look at each aspect to get a more in-depth understanding on the situation.

Overall Physical Activity: D-

The official recommendations state that children should be getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity 5 days per week. In the 6-11 year old age bracket, only 42% of kids are meeting these standards. Not surprisingly, as kids get older and have more access to electronic entertainment, in the 12-15 age group the numbers drop. What is surprising, is how sharply the numbers plummet. During those years, only about 8% of kids are as active as the should be.


Sedentary Behaviors: D

Right along with getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, kids are only supposed to be in the front of a screen for 2 hours or less. Only 46% of kids are within their limits.


Active Transportation: F

Only about 13% of kids walk or take their bikes to schools. This one takes some balance, though, and obviously would not be an option for kids who live in some areas. If the child lives in a high-crime area or extremely far from the school, this just isn’t practical or safe.


Organized Sport Participation: C-

About 58% of high school students participate in at least one form of organized sports. This could be a team at school or another community program. While these numbers aren’t terrible, they would be more acceptable if the students who were not involved in sports were getting their activity elsewhere.


School: C-

This measure looked at how many high school students were attending at least one physical education class per week. Personally, I was surprised to learn that only 52% of American students are meeting this requirement.


Community & the Built Environment: B-

It is good to know that 85% of children live in areas that give them access to at least one playground or park. But, the other numbers seems to suggest that these facilities are not being use as much as they should be.


The report card also included several sections that came up with an “incomplete” grade. This meant that the researchers just didn’t have enough to information to come up with an accurate judgment. These categories are: Active play, health related fitness, family and peers, and government strategies and investments.

Once again, this report card provides a stunning reminder that we still have plenty of work to do when it comes to encouraging a healthy lifestyle for our children. But, this sort of itemized list really makes the situation more understandable and gives us specific things to work on.





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About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.