An expansive new analysis finds that children all around the world are less fit than their parents, showing a clear decline in fitness over the past few decades. Children today are slower runners, taking about 90 seconds longer to run a mile than their parents’ generation did, and are about 15 percent less fit than children 30 years ago.
That’s because they’re also heavier than their parents were, according to Dr. Grant Tomkinson of the University of South Australia’s School of Health Sciences, who led the study. “In fact, about 30% to 60% of the declines in endurance running performance can be explained by increases in fat mass,” he said. While fitness has declined, childhood obesity has skyrocketed in Western and some Asian countries. Indeed, Tomkinson’s team found that each country’s fitness and obesity rates went hand-in-hand.
Tomkinson and his team examined 50 studies of 25 million children in 28 countries over 46 years before coming to their discouraging conclusion. Besides obesity, researchers pointed to more sedentary lifestyles, in which kids spend more time playing video games or on the computer, and unsafe neighborhoods that keep children from playing outside. Many cash-strapped schools have also eliminated gym classes, hoping kids will get enough activity during recess.
This fitness decline has grave impacts on future generations’ health. Already, the U.S. is caring for a generation of baby boomers who are sicker and more obese than their parents.