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Bright Futures in Practice: Physical Activity
 

THE SURGEON GENERAL'S REPORT ON
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND HEALTH

Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General is a comprehensive overview of research related to physical activity and health.1 The report (1) summarizes the benefits of physical activity, (2) reinforces the importance of promoting physical activity, (3) states that many children and adolescents are at risk for health problems because of inactive lifestyles, and (4) states that everyone should participate in a moderate amount of physical activity (e.g., 15 minutes of running, 30 minutes of brisk walking, 45 minutes of playing volleyball) on most, if not all, days of the week. The report offers the following findings on children's and adolescents' physical activity behavior: BFPAIN_PU70

  • About 14 percent of children and adolescents did not participate in light-to-moderate or vigorous physical activity.

  • Nearly half of adolescents ages 12 to 21 did not participate regularly in vigorous physical activity.

  • Female adolescents were less active than male adolescents, and black females were less active than white females.

  • Children's and adolescents' participation in physical activity declined considerably as they got older.

  • Daily attendance of high school students in physical education classes declined from 42 percent in 1991 to 25 percent in 1995.

  • Only 19 percent of high school students were physically active for 20 minutes or more in daily physical education classes.

These findings are disturbing in view of the numerous health benefits that children and adolescents derive by being physically active on a regular basis. The Surgeon General's report indicates that physical activity can lead to improved body composition (i.e., increased lean muscle mass, reduced total body fat) and can help reduce other coronary heart disease (CHD) risk factors among children and adolescents. For example, increased physical activity levels can favorably alter blood lipid profiles in children and adolescents at high risk for CHD (e.g., children and adolescents who are obese or who have type 1 diabetes mellitus) and can reduce blood pressure, especially in children and adolescents whose blood pressure is elevated. Physical activity plays a substantial role in the development of bone mass during childhood and adolescence and can help maintain the structure and functional strength of bone throughout life.

Efforts to increase physical activity levels among children and adolescents have been most successful in school settings. For example, as a result of intervention, children attending elementary school were more active in physical education classes. However, little attention has been focused on promoting physical activity among children and adolescents in settings other than schools, including health care settings (e.g., health professionals counseling children and adolescents about physical activity during health supervision visits).

Health professionals, families, peers, and communities can influence children's and adolescents' physical activity levels. Parents who participate in physical activity themselves and who support and encourage physical activity in their children and adolescents have a positive influence on children's and adolescents' physical activity levels. In addition, older children and adolescents whose friends are physically active tend to be more physically active themselves.

Little is known about which factors motivate children and adolescents to become physically active, remain physically active, and increase their physical activity levels as they become older. In addition, it is not clear why these factors differ for females and males or for different racial and ethnic groups. However, it is clear that females are less likely than males to participate in vigorous physical activity, participate in strengthening or toning activities, or participate on sports teams. Strategies different from those used to promote physical activity in boys and male adolescents may be needed to promote physical activity in girls and female adolescents. Strategies that take into account children's and adolescents' race or cultural background could also be beneficial. The Surgeon General's report recommends the following intervention strategies to promote physical activity in children and adolescents:

  • Make physical activity enjoyable.

  • Help children and adolescents succeed and increase their confidence in their ability to be physically active.

  • Support children's and adolescents' efforts to be physically active.

  • Help children and adolescents learn about the benefits of physical activity and help them de-velop positive attitudes toward it.

  • Help children and adolescents overcome barriers that keep them from being physically active.

Other guidelines are available for promoting lifelong physical activity among children and adolescents in the home, the community, and health care settings.2–5 These guidelines include recommendations for policy and physical and social environmental interventions.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. 1996. Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Washington, DC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

  2. Sallis JF, Patrick K. 1994. Physical activity guidelines for adolescents: Consensus statement. Pediatric Exercise Science 6(4):302–314.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1997. Guidelines for school and community programs to promote lifelong physical activity among young people. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 46(RR-6): 1–36.

  4. Corbin CB, Pangrazi RP. 1998. Physical Activity for Children: A Statement of Guidelines. Reston, VA: National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

  5. Pate R, Corbin C, Pangrazi B. 1998. Physical activity for young people. The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Research Digest 3(3):1–6.

 

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