How inactive are today’s kids?

I was hoping to not begin this post with the following phrase, but its useless fighting the urge. I have reached an age at which I believe I am now entitled to do so.

Back in my day, when I was still in elementary school, I don’t think my parents or those of my friends ever had to worry about us being physically inactive.

Sure we had Nintendo, and Super Nintendo had just come out, but really how many hours could one spend with Duck Hunt?

At the same time, it feels like people were generally less frightened of letting their children play outdoors. I was basically always outside.

I spent entire summers playing manhunt with my friends – a game which consisted of basically running and hiding for hours on end. I wish I could still play manhunt – most fun exercise of my life.

But I digress.

Needless to say, when I was a kid, I was inactive for a very small fraction of my time. The same was true of all my friends.

Fast-forward some 20 years later, and where do we find the youth of today?

Too often, not moving, according to a recent study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise by Tudor-Locke et al. (senior author of the study, Peter Katzmarzyk, was a professor which taught both Travis and me in grad school).

Briefly, the authors used data from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey which included accelerometer data measuring the number of steps taken by children (ages 6-11) and youth (ages 12-19) in the US.

Their analysis included a total of 2610 children and youth.

Now before we get into the results, to put everything in perspective, current guidelines in adults suggest getting a minimum of 10,000 steps per day.

The study found that US children average around 13,000 steps for boys and 12,000 for the girls, meanwhile the values for male and female youth are 11,000 and 9,000.

So that looks promising, right?

Well, apparently there is a bit of a caveat with the methodology in the study in terms of the accelerometer used to measure steps. It turns out, as the authors describe, the accelerometers used are apparently a bit liberal with the number of steps they count.

Thus, in a secondary analysis, the authors reanalyzed the accelerometer data, this time censoring or removing the low activity data that was unlikely to be a real step, hoping to get a more accurate picture of actual activity patterns.

When this was done, the average number of steps in each group fell by about 2600 steps.

The end result: almost 42% of US male children and almost 21% of female children were found to be sedentary when compared directly against sex-specific scales designed to rank pedometer-determined physical activity.

Since no such scales are available for youth, we don’t really know where this groups stands.

More than anything else, this study should act as another reminder to encourage your kids to go outside and play. It is a testament to our current state that I seem to always over-react when I see kids just playing outside – it has become such a rare sighting.


TUDOR-LOCKE, C., JOHNSON, W., & KATZMARZYK, P. (2010). Accelerometer-Determined Steps per Day in US Children and Youth Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 42 (12), 2244-2250 DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181e32d7f

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