Physical Activity Message For Parents From New Survey: No More Excuses

July 01, 1997

Washington, DC, July 1, 1997. More than half of all children who say they don't get enough physical activity blame lack of time or homework, according to a new survey. But two out of three parents who say their youngsters don't get enough activity point to a lack of interest or competition from TV, video games, and computers as the real reasons.

The survey, conducted by Louis Harris and Associates, was commissioned by the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). ILSI launched a new Physical Activity and Nutrition Program (PAN) in 1996 in partnership with the National Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The program is a response to the alarming increase in childhood obesity in recent years.

The survey revealed that fewer than one out of four youngsters (4th to 12th grades) get vigorous physical activity every day of the week. One out of four do not attend any school physical education classes, and only one out of three get physical education every school day.

"Daily physical activity for children needs to become a priority for parents equal to that of buckling seat belts," says James O. Hill, Ph.D., chairman of the PAN Advisory Committee and professor of pediatrics and medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. "Adopting a 'no more excuses' attitude when a child pleads lack of time is an important beginning. Furthermore, parents need to demand that schools put the fourth R back into their curriculum: Recreation needs to be added to Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic."

The national telephone survey, conducted in September-October 1996, sampled 1,504 parents and a child in the same family and is believed to be the first to provide such family-linked data on physical activity. Designed to identify predictors of activity levels in children and to examine the role of the family in shaping behaviors, the survey revealed that involvement by parents is a powerful influence on total weekly physical activity.

According to Hill, "Survey data amount to a call to action for parents, schools and communities. Lack of physical activity is a major reason why children's obesity levels are at all-time highs." Furthermore, parents who say they are very overweight are far more likely to have an obese child. Three out of ten obese children have parents who describe themselves as overweight.

Increased physical activity benefits children in many ways: increased fitness contributes to healthy growth and development, and healthy physical activity habits can benefit them throughout their lives.

Hill pointed out that the good news from the survey was that parents are willing to help their kids say "yes" to physical activity. There is genuine interest among parents and children in volunteering to bring physical activity opportunities to families and communities. Probably most significant is that public school facilities (playgrounds, gyms, swimming pools, etc.) are underutilized physical assets and that parents and older children are willing to volunteer in helping turn community schools into recreational centers during nonschool hours--afternoon, evening, weekend and summer.

This is ironic, says Hill, because 9 out of 10 youngsters who do participate in physical education classes say they enjoy the activity and 7 out of 10 say they get a good workout.

The next priority for the PAN program is testing community intervention strategies by utilizing findings from the study in community intervention projects. The first such project is being planned in collaboration with an ongoing community effort in Denver.

Other organizations already working to increase physical activity and/or improve nutrition have expressed interest in the new data and are enthusiastic about future cooperative efforts.

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NOTE TO EDITORS: Other findings of the survey and recommendations for action are available upon request.

The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is a nonprofit, worldwide foundation established in 1978 to advance the understanding of scientific issues related to nutrition, food safety, toxicology, risk assesment and the environment.

The ILSI web site can be accessed at http://www.ilsi.org

The International Food Information Council Foundation was founded in 1991 to be a force that helps the media, educators, health professionals and scientists effectively communicate science-based information relating to health, nutrition and food safety for the public good.

IFIC materials can be accessed at http://ificinfo.health.org

International Food Information Council Foundation

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