Children are about 15 percent less aerobically fit than their parents were at the same age, according to a new study presented by the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2013 in Dallas, Texas. Today’s children do not run as far or as fast as their parents did when they were young. The study is the first to show that cardiovascular fitness in children has declined internationally since around 1975. This decline in aerobic activity in childhood leads to cardiovascular problems later in life.

The researchers analyzed results from 50 studies performed between 1964 and 2010. These studied assessed running activities in more than 25 million children, living in different 28 countries and all aged 9 to 17. The scientists gauged the cardiovascular health of the children by measuring how far the kids could run in a set amount of time or how long it took them to run a certain distance. The tests generally lasted five to 14 minutes or covered various distances up to two miles.

The scientists noted a significant decline in cardiovascular performance during the past 46 years. These changes were similar in boys and girls, older children and younger ones, and kids from different geographic regions, although cardiovascular endurance did vary slightly between countries. Heart health in kids from the United States dropped an average of 6 percent per decade between the years 1970 and 2000. Endurance has ebbed consistently about 5 percent each decade in every nation.

Children today are about 15 percent less heart-healthy than their parents were at the same age. Today’s kids run a one-mile race about one and a half minutes slower than their peers 30 years ago. The researchers suggest social, behavioral, physical, psychosocial and physiological factors as possible causes for the decline in physical activity that results in cardiovascular health.

These findings of the decline in cardiovascular fitness mirror the trends towards childhood obesity in all nations, suggesting the two factors may influence one another. The researchers attribute 30 to 60 percent of the decline in running performance to an increase in body fat.

To improve cardiovascular endurance and other measures of health, children should engage in 60 minutes of aerobic activities, such as swimming or running, each day.

Source: Children’s cardiovascular fitness declining worldwide. American Heart Association. 19 Nov 2013. Web. Retrieved 25 Nov 2013.

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