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World’s Children Becoming Couch Potatoes

March 31, 2010

According to a study of over 70,000 teens in 34 nations, one third of children around the world spend three hours a day or more watching TV or on computers.

Regina Guthold of the World Health Organization in Geneva and her colleagues found that most children are not getting enough exercise and it made no difference if they lived in a rich or poor country.

“With regards to physical activity levels, we did not find much of a difference between poor and rich countries,” Guthold told Reuters Health. “Growing up in a poor country does not necessarily mean that kids get more physical activity.”

The study looked at 72,845 schoolchildren between 13 and 15 from North and South America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.  The survey took place between 2003 and 2007.

The team defined adequate physical activity as at least an hour of exercise outside of gym class at least five days every week.

Children that spent three or more hours a day watching TV, playing computer games, or chatting with friends were classified as sedentary.

Only one quarter of the boys and 15 percent of the girls were getting enough exercise by these definitions, the researchers said.

Uruguay had the highest percentage of active boys at 42 percent, while Zambia had the lowest at 8 percent.

Girls from India had 37 percent meeting exercise recommendations, making them the most active.  Girl from Egypt were the least active with just 4 percent.

Children in Myanmar were the least sedentary, with 13 percent of the boys and 8 percent of girls. 

Guthold said that urbanization could be a factor in the results, as well as access to cars and TVs.

She said schools can help children become more active by having physical education classes and educating students about exercise and its importance.

She also said that adding lanes for bicycles, pedestrian crossings and other changes to promote walking and biking to and from school could also help.

“Even with the limitations that questionnaire data (suffer) from, I guess it’s pretty safe to say that we have a huge problem with physical inactivity among schoolchildren around the globe and that we should take action,” said Guthold.

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