How Fit Are Young Teens?

A new study finds that just 1 in 4 young teens meet U.S. fitness guidelines

Jan 08, 2014 | By Stephanie Kraus with AP reporting
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How often do you exercise? A new study finds that most kids ages 12 to 15 aren’t getting enough physical activity. The results are based on about 800 kids. As part of the study, the young teens tracked and reported on their own activity levels, and took physical exams.

U.S. fitness guidelines recommend an hour or more of physical activity every day. According to the study, only 1 in 4 U.S. kids meet the recommendation.

"It's definitely very concerning to see that our kids are engaging in such a limited amount of physical activity each day,” said Dr. Stephen Pont. He is an expert on children’s health and obesity.

No Sweat

Few kids in the survey met the guidelines for physical activity that raises the heart rate and makes you breathe harder. However, most of those kids said they did at least an hour of exercise at that level during the previous week. Overall, about 25% said they got an hour of that kind of strenuous exercise every day. Kids also reported on which activities they did most often outside of school gym class—basketball for boys and running for girls.

The study found that obese teens were less active than normal-weight girls and boys. Overweight girls were slightly less active than normal-weight girls, but levels were similar among overweight and normal-weight boys. The study also says that the overall obesity rate for children aged 2 to 19 is 17%, or about 12.5 million kids.

Recess Required

WIN MCNAMEE—GETTY IMAGES
WIN MCNAMEE—GETTY IMAGES

“There’s always room for improvement,” said health expert Tala Fakhouri, who was the lead author of the study. She also said the results provide useful information to help with fitness campaigns such as Let’s Move, which was launched by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2010. To inspire kids to eat right and get in shape, the First Lady visits schools and holds exercise events. She also calls on schools to offer regular gym classes.

Pont said research suggests kids who get physical education at school may get better grades. He said schools can do more to help by not cutting recess and giving kids more time for physical activity.