'United States Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth' is a call for action

Given the seemingly endless reports and studies that continue to document the unhealthy lifestyle as well as the declining levels of physical activity among our fellow Americans, recent results in the first-ever United States Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth should, unfortunately, come as no surprise. This report, issued by the National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP) Alliance and the American College of Sports Medicine, provides another eye-opening view on the lack of physical activity among our nation’s young people. The findings are a clarion call for action that we and members of the Congressional Fitness Caucus intend to take seriously.

In the 10 key indicators that were evaluated and graded as part of the U.S. Report Card, American children and youth had only one grade above C while the remaining grades were either below average or incomplete (due to lack of available data). “Overall Physical Activity,” a metric which measures the proportion of children attaining an hour or more of moderate-to-vigorous activity five days a week, scored a D-minus.  “Sedentary Behaviors,” which measures the proportion of children engaging in two hours or less of screen time per day, scored a D.

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Our students did better in “Organized Sports Participation,” scoring a C-minus based on participation in least one school or rec team, and earned another C-minus in “School” for PE class participation. Unfortunately, these  grades are far from where they should be based on recommendations by pediatricians. Overall, the highest grade that was achieved was a B-minus  in “Community and the Built Environment,” and reflected the availability of at least one park or playground in our neighborhoods.

The findings of the NPAP Alliance and the 2014 Report Card Research Advisory Committee revealed the enormity of the consequences of diminished physical activity among our nation’s children.  Today, more than 31 percent of children and youth in the U.S. are overweight and almost 17 percent are obese. Contrast that with 1969, when the obesity prevalence was only  five percent, and the picture looks bleak. 

Currently, only about 25 percent of U.S. children and youth aged 6-15 years are engaged in at least one hour of physical activity per day.  Looking at this number more closely, we see that 42 percent of children ages 6-11 meet this requirement, but only eight percent of youth ages 12-15 do. These statistics show that as children grow older, they become less physically active.

The Congress has a critical role to play in addressing this issue. There needs to be a more coordinated focus on physical activity for children and youth across the of the United States.

Although report card issued two weeks ago may seem depressing, the good news is that we have a chance to significantly improve moving forward.  The report card is the first in a historic series of national physical activity report cards in countries around the world that will be updated annually, providing an unprecedented global benchmark using a common methodology on this pivotal public health issue.

Legislation such as our bill, H.R. 2178- the Fitness Integrated with Teaching (FIT) Kids Act, would authorize grants to states to develop comprehensive, data-driven and evidence-based programs to address student physical health and well-being, fitness and nutrition.

Now that we know the score the Congressional Fitness Caucus will be focused on solutions that can make the most difference in improving physical fitness, nutrition and a better quality of life. We must bring up those grades!

Schock has represented Illinois' 18th Congressional District since 2009. He sits on the Ways & Means and the House Administration committees.  Kind has represented Wisconsin's 3rd Congressional District since 1997. He sits on the Ways & Means Committee. Schock and Kind co-chair the Congressional Fitness Caucus. For the full fitness report or summary edition, visit: http://www.physicalactivityplan.org