The annual grades given to many aspects of physical activity among youth, remain an ugly truth in this age of video games and mobile electronic devices. But some progress is being made.
The percentage of children aged 6-12 who engaged in no physical activity in 2018 decreased to 17.1 million from 17.5 million in 2017 and more than 13 percent from 2014 when the number of inactive U.S. kids peaked at 19.7 million. Meanwhile, children who regularly participate in high-calorie-burning sports rose to 31.3 million in 2018, up from 30.2 million in 2017 but far below the 37.6 million in 2012.
The Aspen Institute, an international, nonprofit think tank, released its annual Project Play report last week. The 32-page narrative, while issuing poor grades in many development areas, outlines eight key developments where progress is or can be made. Among them: Re-introducing Free Play and Encouraging Sport Sampling.
“We have a health crisis in our society and access to sport can address that,” Dave Egner, President & CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation says. “And if we can expand access to free-play opportunities, we can expand the creativity and problem-solving skills of the next generation.”
Getting doctors to write “prescriptions” for physical activity is one idea suggested by researchers given only 5 percent of U.S. kids today get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily, according to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and 40 percent of children seen at outpatient sports-medicine clinics are getting either too much exercise or too much on some days and too little on others. In Arkansas, a new state law requires elementary schools to now provide at least 40 minutes of recess daily with opportunities for free play and vigorous physical activity outdoors. Meanwhile, a pilot program in Buffalo this summer offered three-day sports equipment loans to kids at libraries to encourage them to stay active during the season. Library fines were waived once the gear was returned.
The Aspen Institute says multi-sports play among children is making “a slight comeback” as it continues to encourage sport sampling and less sports specialization. But there are some problems. Notably, according to sports providers in Seattle, kids are increasingly playing multiple sports at the same time in an approach “that could drive youth to eventually burn out,” the report states. See results of a nine-question Project Play checklist on sport sampling, completed by 23 national sport organizations to date at: www.aspenprojectplay.org/aces. A number of these groups, including USA Cycling and USA Swimming, discourage national championships and rankings for children through age 12. But others, including The U.S. Tennis Association and USA Baseball, do not.
Jim Baugh, the founder of the nonprofit PHIT America, will address attendees of the LA84 Foundation Summit: “Play Equity: Elevating the Game for Our Kids,” tomorrow morning. The theme of his presentation is: “Sitting Is the New Smoking.”