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Stop decline in children's aerobic fitness

Published January 18. 2014 09:00AM

They are simple words, so if you possess the ability to read this column, you probably know the definitions of "better" and "easier." Yet too many in our society and too many parents in particular blur these words together.

While there is nothing more admirable than parents working overtime, attending night school, or making any other sort of sacrifice to create a situation where their children "have it better" than they did as children, there's an inherent danger in doing the same or parenting in a way so children "have it easier."

In the best case, the first creates opportunities along with an undying sense of gratitude for the opportunities and their parents. In the worst case, the second creates comfort and an unshakable sense that their parents and the world owe them more.

Please don't interpret these words as a condemnation of today's parents. I have written in the past and will continue to write that the task they face today is a tough one that just seems to get tougher with every technological innovation.

And please don't interpret this intro as a slam on today's children.

Those previously mentioned technological innovations offer possibilities never dreamed of 50 years ago. Back then, many people needed to speak to an operator for their phone to function. Today, high-tech phones serve as newspapers, libraries, personal assistants, and provide instant access to the Internet.

But all these possibilities create such a dizzying speed that many children and many adults find life overwhelming.

Interpret this intro as a cautionary tale brought on by analyzing running studies done over the last 46 years. Somehow, in a society devoted to making life better for each succeeding generation, we have noticed a dangerous decline in one measure that often determines long-term health.

Aerobic fitness.

At this year's American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions held in Dallas, Dr. Grant Tomkinson of the University of South Australia's School of Science Health disclosed a study that found children in the U.S. are about 15 percent less aerobically fit than their parents were as children.

Tomkinson and his colleagues considered the results of 50 studies of running tests between five and 15 minutes in length performed between 1964 and 2010 in 28 countries. The tests were done by 25 million children between the ages of nine and 17.

While all nations recorded averaged about a five percent decline in every decade, the U.S. average was about one percent higher.

Tomkinson attributes the drop in aerobic fitness to a corresponding increase in body fat.

The Fitness Master attributes the increase in body fat in part to parents determined to create a better life for their children unwittingly creating a life that's easier to such a degree that it's adversely affecting fitness which adversely affects health. And what parent wants to be responsible for a son or daughter's eventually diabetes, hypertension, or heart disease?

Yet many could be doing just that, and one of the ways is by being lax about bedtime.

Researchers at the University of Temple monitored 37 children aged eight to 11 for three weeks as they manipulated their sleeping patterns. After using the first week to determine typical sleep time for each individual, the children were randomly selected to sleep either longer than that for one week and less than that for the next.

Food ingestion, body weight, and the production of leptin, a hormone that creates hunger, were measured.

The study showed that when the children slept more than their average they averaged 134 fewer calories a day than when compared to when they slept less. An average of a half pound of weight loss was recorded, as was a lower level of leptin secretion.

This research reaffirms research published in the British Medical Journal, now called BMJ, that correlated a lack of sleep to obesity in young children.

So while parents may want to provide the big-screen TVs, Internet access, and cell phones to their children, they may also want to determine a specific time of the night where all of these things must be turned off so that their children get sufficient shut eye.

Eating foods loaded with sugar and fat may be another area where parents need to set limits. That's because research performed at Connecticut College has found the high amounts of these found in Oreo cookies to be as addictive as cocaine to lab rats.

Since a rat's physiology is so similar to ours and previous research done at Yale University also found a link between food addiction and drug addiction, most believe sugar and fat are addictive to humans to some degree, too.

Children won't have it better than their parents did if they go to bed whenever after being allowed to eat whatever and spend so much time using electronic gadgets that they neglect exercise.

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