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More than 80% of adolescents not active enough warns the World Health Organisation

More than 80% of adolescents not active enough warns the World Health Organisation

More than 80% of adolescents not active enough warns the World Health Organisation

Reliance on technology and sedentary lifestyles focused on screens are jeopardising health, says World Health Organisation (WHO). 

New research released in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal shows the proportion of insufficiently active girls in 27 countries rose to more than 90%. Girls lagged behind boys in physical activity, in all but four countries – Afghanistan, Samoa, Tonga and Zambia. 

Researchers from the University of Western Australia and the Imperial College in London analysed data from 298 school surveys on physical activity levels from 146 countries, representing 1.6 million students. Of the 146 countries, New Zealand ranked 138 with Australia further behind at 140. 

Eighty-nine per cent of young Australians and New Zealanders did not meet this recommendation. Out of 25 high-income western countries, Australia had the highest number of teenagers – nine out of 10 – not meeting physical activity guidelines. Italy and France were rated second and third respectively.

In Australia, 91% of girls did not meet activity targets, compared to 87% of boys.

The WHO has warned urgent action must be taken to get adolescents away from their screens as their inactivity is jeopardising their current and future health. “Urgent policy action … is needed now, particularly to promote and retain girls’ participation in physical activity,” says study author Dr Regina Guthold.

Last year, member states agreed to reduce inactivity levels by 15% by 2030. However, there has been little improvement since 2001 that suggests the target is unlikely to be met. 

What is the recommended amount of exercise for children?

It is recommended adolescents do an hour’s moderate to vigorous physical activity a day, including walking or cycling to school and playing games. Movement and activities are an important part to the development of bone and muscular strength, and heart and lung health. Exercise also helps young people avoid diseases, such as obesity, heart disease, cancers and diabetes. There is growing evidence that it helps cognitive development, as well as social and motor skills.

Despite schools offering adolescents sports, the WHO recommends communities and sporting associations can work to encourage active living. Parental involvement and encouragement is also key to setting examples of healthy, active living. 

Reduce screen time

There are “disadvantages and unintended consequences” to the use of digital media, involving excessive amounts of time spent on phones, laptops and gaming devices, said Dr Fiona Bull, an author and the WHO’s lead expert on physical activity. 

She added that the WHO has already recommended restricting screen time for under-fives. “I think we will see the evidence start to show that in youth, in adults, there is a limit that we should place on these. We don’t have specific guidelines yet, but we are concerned about the time spent sedentary.”

Dr Mark Tremblay, of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Canada, said in the Journal that physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for premature death worldwide.

“The electronic revolution has fundamentally transformed people’s movement patterns by changing where and how they live, learn, work, play and travel, progressively isolating them indoors,” he said.

“People sleep less, sit more, walk less frequently, drive more regularly and do less physical activity than they used to.

Is excessive screen time causing your child to fall behind? Perhaps this is the reason why?

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