Most U.S. Kids Don’t Get Enough Exercise, Says NIH

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According to a new study conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), most young people in the United States are lacking both adequate exercise and healthy diets.

The report, which involved more than 10,000 students ages 11 to 16 in 39 states reveals that just half of the nation’s adolescents engage in physical activity at least five days per week, and only a third eat vegetables or fruits everyday.

Dr. Ronald Iannotti, lead author of the report and researcher at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), said that although the findings demonstrated wide variability in eating patterns, about 75 percent of the subjects had eating habits that were not deemed healthy.

The report, which appears in the Journal of Adolescent Health, says 27 percent of subjects had healthy diets and activity habits, while about 26 percent demonstrated unhealthy patterns. About 47 percent of subjects fell into a group defined as “typical” by researchers.

Among typical subjects, about 55 percent watched more than two hours of TV per day, and about 20 percent spent at least two hours per day playing video games. Typical subjects were also found to be more likely to consume soda or candies on a daily basis than fruits or vegetables. On the other hand, subjects in the healthy classification were about nine times more likely to eat vegetables and fruits everyday than drink cola or eat junk food.

Additionally, researchers asked subjects to describe other factors, including their thoughts on body image and the state of their emotional health. According to the study, youth with less healthy habits were more likely to report both depression and physical health problems, such as dizziness and backaches, than youth with more health-conscious diets and activities. Young people with the highest healthiness ratings, researchers concluded, also had the highest overall life satisfaction rates among the population.

“I think there is sufficient evidence that physical activity has this positive effect,” Iannotti told Youth Today. “So that engaging in physical activity is likely to improve one’s affect, and I think there is some evidence that physical activity may be a way of addressing feelings of depression.”