Every two years the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance publishes a “Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth.”
The alliance, a nonprofit coalition of national organizations that work together to improve activity levels of youth, organizes an advisory committee of various experts to prepare the report card, which is based on the most recent evidence-based scientific research.
The 2018 report card shows some areas of improvement, but the grades are not those that most parents would like to see for their own children.
National physical activity guidelines recommend that youth perform 60 or more minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.
In addition, vigorous activity (elevated heart rate) and muscle fitness exercise (that also builds bones) is recommend at least three days a week.
The report uses an A-F scale, with “A” indicating we are succeeding for the majority of children and “F” indicating we succeeding with very few. Here are the national grades.
Overall Physical Activity, Grade D-
Only 24 percent of children 6 to 17 years participate in 60 minutes of physical activity daily.
As kids grow older, they become less active, 43 percent of 6-11-year-olds vs 26 percent of 16-19-year-olds meet national guidelines. Boys meet guidelines more often than girls; twice the number of high school boys meet guidelines compared to girls. A low proportion of youth with “disabling conditions” meet activity guidelines.
Sedentary Behaviors, Grade D-
Sedentary refers to activities such as lying down or sitting. About 2/3 of youth aged 6-19 engage in 2 or more hours of screen time daily. More than 40 percent of high school students use electronic devices for more than three hours daily. Girls (38 percent) have more screen time per day than boys (28 percent). Older youth have more screen time than younger kids.
Active Transportation, Grade D-
Walking or biking to school, to work, to a park, to a mall, or moving in the neighborhood constitutes active transportation. 38 percent of youth do at least 10 minutes of active transportation at least once a week. 13 percent of youth 5-14 usually walk or bike to school. 62 percent report zero days of walking or biking for transportation each week. Boys (45 percent) do active transportation more often than girls (32 percent).
Organized Sport Participation, Grade C
56 percent of kids 6-12 play organized sports, but only 37 percent did so on a regular basis. 50 percent play unorganized or individual sports. 54 percent of high school youth play at least one sport during the year. 25-30 percent of youth with “disabling conditions” play sports, 30 percent of low-income kids play no sports while that is true of only 12 percent of high income youth.
Active Play, Grade Incomplete
65 percent of schools require recess. 80 percent of principals agree that recess aids academic achievement. 11 percent of elementary, 8 percent of middle, and 2 percent of high schools require classroom activity breaks. Little national data is available to determine outdoor and out of school free play involvement.
Physical Fitness, C-
42 percent of youth 12-15 have healthy levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, a decrease from 2012. 52 percent of youth 6-15 have healthy levels of muscular endurance. 19 percent of boys and 18 percent of girls aged 2-19 are obese.
Family and Peers, Incomplete
No nationally representative data are available for family members, peers, and friends who facilitate activity for kids or who are active with kids.
School, Grade D-
30 percent of high school students attend PE five days a week. 92 percent percent of 6th graders take some PE each week, but that is true of only 42 percent of high school youth. 33 percent of school districts have policies to support walking and biking to school. 71 percent of elementary, 74 percent of middle, and 81 percent of high school districts require PE teachers to have a degree in PE.
Almost all schools have policies requiring PE or physical activity for students with “disabling conditions.”
Community and Built Environment, Grade C
75 percent of youth (6-17) live in neighborhoods with sidewalks or walking paths. 77 percent of youth (6-17) live in neighborhoods with a nearby park or playground. 64 percent of youth (6-17) live in neighborhoods that are safe for outdoor play.
How have things changed since the last report in 2016? There has been slight improvement in three areas including active transportation, organized sports participation, and physical fitness.
Grades in two areas school and community and built environment are lower than in 2016. As the grades indicate, there is much room for improvement. If data were available for Ahwatukee and the Foothills, how do you think our area would fare?
The complete report is available for free online at: physicalactivityplan.org/projects/reportcard.html
-Chuck Corbin is an ASU professor emeritus and 30-year resident of Ahwatukee.