Children around the world are not as fit as their parents were at their age.  According to new research, in a one -mile footrace, a child today would finish a full minute and a half behind a typical child in 1975 says lead author of the study, Grant Tomkinson, a senior lecturer in the University of South Australia’s School of Health Sciences.

"We all live in an environment that's toxic for exercise, and our children are paying the price," Tomkinson said.

Kids around the globe are about fifteen percent less aerobically fit than their parents were as youngsters. In the United States, it’s even worse. Kids heart endurance fell an average of six percent in each of the decades from 1970-2000. Such a large drop in fitness does not bode well for today’s youngsters. Kids who are getting too little exercise now are more likely to have weaker hearts, thinner bones and overall poorer health as they mature.

The researchers came to their assessments by analyzing 50 studies on running fitness between now and 1964 that involved more than 25 million kids aged 9 to 17 in 28 countries.

Studies included in their analysis measured heart endurance by how far kids could run in a set time or how long it took them to run a set distance. Tests usually lasted five to 15 minutes or covered between a half-mile and two miles of running.

Endurance declined significantly over the years, but in ways that were similar between boys and girls and younger and older kids across different regions of the world.

What is causing kids to be so unfit? Tomkinson says these are some of the factors that have combined to create an increasingly inactive society:

  • Communities designed to discourage walking, bicycling and backyard play. "We have to travel farther to get to parks and green spaces, and they may not always be of the best quality," he said. "Kids are less likely to ride bikes or walk to school."
  • Schools that have either rid themselves of physical education or replaced it with a less strenuous version of the class. These days, only 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools and 2 percent of high schools offer a daily physical education class.
  •  The prevalence of TV, computer, tablet and smartphone screens that sap a kid's will to venture outdoors.

Another component working against kids today is that many are simply overweight or obese. "We are fatter today, so from a weight-bearing perspective it's harder to move our bodies through space," Tomkinson said, noting that about 30 percent to 60 percent of declines in endurance running performance can be explained by increases in body fat mass.

Tomkinson says the solution is kids need at least sixty minutes of physical activity that uses the body’s large muscles such as running, swimming or cycling. The sixty minutes doesn’t need to happen all at once to be beneficial. Kids can break up the activity into segments throughout the day. Taking a ten-minute walk in the morning, playing an active game at recess and biking, walking, running or swimming after school as an example.

If parents model exercise as part of their lifestyle, kids are more likely to engage as well.

Tomkinson will present his findings at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in Dallas, Texas.

Source: Dennis Thompson,