Childhood inactivity may have an impact on later weight gain and chronic disease-risk in people as young as 15, according to new research led by the University of Sydney.
The landmark study looked at 4,600 children from age four and found that those who were more active in late childhood were healthier teens, with lower body fat and reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
As a result, Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University‘s Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Health Sciences, has called for a robust long-term national policy to get children moving.
“Our study provides clear evidence that the negative effects of inactivity in childhood are evident well before adulthood,” says Associate Professor Stamatakis.
A/Prof Stamatakis says their research found that by age 15 active kids showed consistently better health outcomes.
“For example, an increase of 60 minutes of daily activity in childhood was linked to 2% less body fat.
“If inactivity patterns persist into adulthood, which is very likely, we expect an increased risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.”
However, A/Prof Stamatakis does not lay the blame solely at parents for kids’ inactivity; he sees it in broader terms.
“With technology today meaning excessive sitting and screen time, we urgently need a serious long-term health policy which promotes strategies in schools and communities to give young people more opportunities for walking, cycling, play, and sports on a daily basis,” says A/Prof Stamatakis.
The research, published in Pediatrics, is the longest running study to objectively measure children’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour against a comprehensive range of health measures relating to heart health, obesity, and diabetes.
Motion sensors were used to measure children’s physical activity levels at age 11, which was compared to their health outcomes at 15.
The research say their findings are step forward as long-term studies into the effects of children’s activity levels are very limited.
“Research looking at the health implications of inactive lifestyles in adulthood is rapidly expanding, but if we want to focus on prevention we must start with a better understanding of its impact in the early years,” says A/Prof Stamatakis.
The study did not show any association between sitting time and negative health consequences; however the researchers speculate that a longer-term follow-up into adulthood could reveal different results.