Children’s cardiovascular fitness declining worldwide

American Heart Association Meeting Report: Abstract 13498 (Room D163)

November 19, 2013 Categories: Heart News, Scientific Conferences & Meetings

Study Highlights:

  • Around the globe, children are about 15 percent less fit than their parents were when they were young.
  • In the United States, kids’ cardiovascular endurance performance declined about 6 percent per decade between 1970 and 2000.

Embargoed until 9 a.m. CT/ 10 a.m. ET Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013

DALLAS, Nov. 19, 2013 — Many kids don’t run as far or fast as their parents did, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2013.

The decline in running fitness may indicate worse health in adulthood, the researchers said.

“If a young person is generally unfit now, then they are more likely to develop conditions like heart disease later in life,” said Grant Tomkinson, Ph.D., lead author of the study and senior lecturer in the University of South Australia’s School of Health Sciences.

“Young people can be fit in different ways. They can be strong like a weightlifter, or flexible like a gymnast, or skillful like a tennis player. But not all of these types of fitness relate well to health. The most important type of fitness for good health is cardiovascular fitness, which is the ability to exercise vigorously for a long time, like running multiple laps around an oval track.”

Researchers analyzed 50 studies on running fitness between 1964 and 2010 that involved more than 25 million kids, ages 9 to 17, in 28 countries. They gauged cardiovascular endurance by how far kids could run in a set time or how long it took to run a set distance. Tests typically lasted five to 15 minutes or covered a half-mile to two miles.

Cardiovascular endurance declined significantly within the 46 years, the researchers found. Average changes were similar between boys and girls, younger and older kids, and across different regions, although they varied country to country.

The study is the first to show that kids’ cardiovascular fitness has declined around the globe since about 1975:

  • In the United States, kids’ cardiovascular endurance fell an average 6 percent per decade between 1970 and 2000.
  • Across nations, endurance has declined consistently by about 5 percent every decade.
  • Kids today are roughly 15 percent less fit from a cardiovascular standpoint than their parents were as youngsters.
  • In a mile run, kids today are about a minute and a half slower than their peers 30 years ago.

Declines in cardiovascular endurance performance are probably caused by social, behavioral, physical, psychosocial and physiological factors, Tomkinson said.

Country-by-country fitness findings are mirrored in measurements of overweight/obesity and body fat, suggesting one factor may cause the other. “In fact, about 30 percent to 60 percent of the declines in endurance running performance can be explained by increases in fat mass,” Tomkinson said.

Kids should engage in at least 60 minutes of daily activities that use the body’s big muscles, such as running, swimming or cycling, he said.

“We need to help to inspire children and youth to develop fitness habits that will keep them healthy now and into the future,” Tomkinson said. “They need to choose a range of physical activities they like or think they might like to try, and they need to get moving.”

Co-authors are Madison Annandale and Katia Ferrar, Ph.D. Author disclosures are on the abstract.

For more information, visit childhood obesity.

Downloadable video/audio interviews, B-roll, animation and images related to this news release are on the right column of the release link at

http://newsroom.heart.org/news/childrens-cardiovascular-fitness-declining-worldwide?preview=ee47008f27716b80a137a845a018d13b.

Video clips with researchers/authors of the studies will be added to the release link after embargo.

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Statements and conclusions of study authors that are presented at American Heart Association scientific meetings are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect association policy or position. The association makes no representation or warranty as to their accuracy or reliability. The association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific association programs and events. The association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and device corporations are available at www.heart.org/corporatefunding.

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