Children today less fit but S'poreans fare better

DALLAS - Today's children cannot keep up with their parents. Well, almost, it would seem in Singapore.

An analysis of studies on millions of children around the world has found that they do not run as fast or as far as their parents did when they were young.

On average, it takes children 90 seconds more to run 1.6km than their counterparts took 30 years ago. Heart-related fitness has declined 5 per cent per decade since 1975 for children aged nine to 17.

But in Singapore, the drop has been marginal - less than 1 per cent between 1980 and 1990.

The American Heart Association, whose conference featured the research on Tuesday, said it was the first to show that children's fitness had declined worldwide over the last three decades, said the Associated Press.

"It makes sense. We have kids who are less active than before," Dr Stephen Daniels, a University of Colorado paediatrician and spokesman for the heart association, was quoted as saying.

World Health Organisation numbers suggest that 80 per cent of young people globally may not be getting enough exercise.

Led by exercise physiologist Grant Tomkinson from the University of South Australia, researchers analysed 50 studies on running fitness - a key measure of cardiovascular health and endurance - involving 25 million children aged nine to 17 in 28 countries from 1964 to 2010. Eighty per cent of the children were from Asia, including Singapore.

The studies measured how far children could run in five to 15 minutes and how quickly they ran a certain distance, up to 3.2km. Today's children were about 15 per cent less fit than their parents were, researchers concluded.

"The changes are very similar for boys and girls and for various ages", but differed by geographic region, Dr Tomkinson said.

He told The Straits Times that researchers found that the aerobic performance of 3,300 Singaporean children aged 12 to 17 tested in 1980 to 1981 and again in 1991 to 1992 remained fairly stable, registering a decline of less than 1 per cent during the period.

He said: "This is in stark contrast to the international decline of 5.5 per cent that occurred over the same 1980 to 1992 period."

But he warned that Singapore should not think all was well. His researchers were unable to determine what happened after 1992 as no data had been published in English language scientific literature despite mass fitness testing of children by the Government and the Singapore Sports Council.

Dr Tomkinson and Dr Daniels said obesity likely played a role in the global results, since it made it harder to run or do any aerobic exercise. Too much time spent watching television and playing video games, and unsafe neighbourhoods with not enough options for outdoor play may also have had a role, they said.

Dr Tomkinson emphasised that children should engage in at least 60 minutes of daily activities that use the body's big muscles, such as running, swimming or cycling.

"If a young person is generally unfit now, then they are more likely to develop conditions like heart disease later in life," he added.


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