Federal report offers strategies to increase physical activity in youth

In an effort to increase physical activity among children and teens, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a five-year follow-up report to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Midcourse Report: Strategies to Increase Physical Activity Among Youth makes research-based recommendations for increasing physical activity opportunities in five key settings:

  1. Schools
  2. Preschool and childcare centers
  3. Community
  4. Family and home
  5. Primary healthcare

Kids need 60 minutes or more physical activity a day where they live, learn and play. Yet, levels of physical activity among children remain low, and go down dramatically during the teenage years. The national Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), which collects self-reported data from U.S. high school students, found that during a seven-day period only 29% of high school students reported doing physically activity for 60 minutes or more a day, while 14% did not do any type of physical activity on any day during that time.

Key Guidelines for Children and Adolescents

Children and adolescents should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of physical activity daily. Activities should be age-appropriate, enjoyable and offer variety.

Aerobic

Most of the 60 or more minutes a day should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, and should include vigorous-intensity physical activity at least 3 days a week.

Muscle-strengthening

As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days of the week.

Bone-strengthening

As part of their 60 or more minutes of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone-strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days of the week.

For the midcourse report, experts reviewed the research to find effective physical activity interventions for youth ages 3-17 in these five settings:

Schools

School interventions have the most evidence for providing opportunities for children to be active. Strategies to increase physical activity during school hours include:

  • providing enhanced physical education that increases lesson time, is given by trained specialists, and includes instructional practice at a moderate to vigorous physical activity level
  • taking classroom activity breaks
  • creating activity sessions before and after school while providing adequate space and equipment
  • participating in active transportation, which includes walking and biking to and from school, to help kids, along with parents, get in more physical activity
  • encouraging physical activity during recess, lunch and other breaks, with organized activities and game equipment available; this may help increase physical activity

Preschool and childcare

Preschool and childcare centers offer opportunities for active play and getting children to start learning healthy habits: Strategies that may increase physical activity for children at these centers include:

  • providing portable play equipment on playgrounds
  • increasing time children spend outside
  • training staff to deliver structured physical activity sessions

Community

A physical environment that is built to encourage physical activity shows promise in helping youth to be more active. Strategies include:

  • increasing walkable and bikeable space in neighborhoods
  • having easier access to parks and recreation facilities
  • decreasing traffic speed and volume and having more traffic lights for pedestrian safety
  • keeping areas clean and well-maintained to encourage more physical activity

Family and home

Children develop physical activity behaviors, attitudes and values in the home. Parents who are active with their children, provide sports equipment and take them to lessons or sports activities help their children live an active lifestyle. However, the experts felt that more research is needed before they can make recommendations or state that family interventions increase physical activity in youth.

Primary healthcare

Physical activity is essential for overall health. During children’s annual physical exams, doctors and healthcare providers can assess a child’s physical activity status and speak to families about being more active. However, the experts felt that more research is needed before they can make recommendations or state that strategies implemented in healthcare settings increase physical activity in youth.


The midcourse report also identified strategies showing promise, but currently little evidence, in promoting physical activity. These include social marketing, social media, active video games and use of the internet and cell phones to engage youth in being more physically active. Playing outdoors remains an ideal way to get children to increase their level of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity and help them reach the recommended 60 minutes or more of physical activity a day.

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