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Stats & Facts: Physical Activity for Children

by Sharon Gayle September 26, 2013

Exercise for Children

Help Your Child to Build a Strong Foundation

As an adult most of us equate exercise to going to the gym and doing cardio and strength training.  However, for children, exercise means being physically active, playing with friends, and having fun.  Children exercise when they have a gym class at school, during recess. Competitive sports such as Soccer can help kids stay fit. Walking or biking to school, dancing, bowling and swimming are also some other ways in which children can get exercise.


The Many Benefits of Exercise

Increased physical activity has been associated with an increased life expectancy and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Physical activity produces overall physical, psychological and social benefits. Inactive children are likely to become inactive adults. And physical activity helps children to:

  1. have stronger muscles and bones
  2. have a leaner body because exercise helps control body fat
  3. control weight / be less likely to become overweight
  4. decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and some kinds of cancer
  5. raising HDL ("good") cholesterol possibly lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels
  6. improved psychological well-being, which often includes more  self-confidence and higher self-esteem

Besides enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise, kids who are physically fit sleep better and are better able to handle physical and emotional challenges — from running to catch a bus to studying for a test.  Parents can set a good example by being active themselves. Exercising together can be fun for everyone! 

The American Heart Association recommends:


  • All children age 2 and older should participate in at least 60 minutes of enjoyable, moderate-intensity physical activities every day that are developmentally appropriate and varied.
  • If your child or children don't have a full 60-minute activity break each day, try to provide at least two 30-minute periods or four 15-minute periods in which they can engage in vigorous activities appropriate to their age, gender and stage of physical and emotional development.

Additional Stats

Physical Activity

  • Only one in three children are physically active every day.(1)
  • Children now spend more than seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen (e.g., TV, video games, computer).(2)
  • Only about one in five homes have parks within a half-mile, and about the same number have a fitness or recreation center within that distance.(3)


  • Typical American diets exceed the recommended intake levels or limits in four categories: calories from solid fats and added sugars; refined grains; sodium; and saturated fat.(4)
  • More than 23 million Americans, including 6.5 million children, live in food deserts – areas that are more than a mile away from a supermarket.(5)
  • In recent years, nearly 15% of American households have been unable to acquire adequate food to help meet their needs.(2)
  • In 2008, an estimated 49.1 million people, including 16.7 million children, experienced food insecurity (limited availability to safe and nutritionally adequate foods) multiple times throughout the year.(6)


  • Data from 2009-2010 indicates that over 78 million U.S. adults and about 12.5 million (16.9%) children and adolescents are obese.(7)
  • For children with disabilities, obesity rates are approximately 38% higher than for children without disabilities. It gets worse for the adult population where obesity rates for adults with disabilities are approximately 57% higher than for adults without disabilities.(8)
  • Obesity Then and Now(2)
        o Prevalence of obesity for children ages 2 to 5 years – doubled
        Early 1970s: 5%
        2007-08: 10%
        o Prevalence of obesity for children ages 6 to 11 years – quadrupled
        Early 1970s: 4%
        2007-08: 20%
        o Prevalence of obesity for children ages 12 to 19 years – tripled
        Early 1970s: 6%
        2007-08: 18%
  • Nearly 45% of children living in poverty are overweight or obese compared with 22% of children living in households with incomes four times the poverty level.(9)
  • Almost 40% of Black and Latino youth ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese compared with only 29% of White youth.(9)

Human and Financial Costs of Obesity

  • Obesity is also a growing threat to national security – a surprising 27% of young Americans are too overweight to serve in our military. Approximately 15,000 potential recruits fail their physicals every year because they are unfit.(10)



  1. National Association for Sport and Physical Education. The Fitness Equation: Physical Activity + Balanced Diet = Fit Kids. Reston, VA: National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 1999.
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2020.
  4. Rideout, Victoria J., Foehr, Ulla G., and Roberts, Donald F. Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds. Rep. Menlo Park: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010.
  5. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Creating Access to Healthy, Affordable Food.
  6. Nord, Mark, Andrews, Margaret, and Carlson, Steven. Household Food Security in the United States, 2008. Rep. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2009.
  7. Ogden, C.L., Carroll, M.D., Kit, B.K., Flegal, K.M. Prevalence of Obesity in the United States, 2009-2010. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief, January 2012.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. 2003-2008.
  9. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. F As In Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future. 2010.
  10. American Heart Association. Teaching America's Kids About A Healthy Lifestyle. 2010.


Exercise | Fitness | Health