In 2008, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published a set of physical activity guidelines. These listed recommended amounts and types of physical activity for kids and teens, adults, pregnant women, seniors, and people with disabilities and chronic medical conditions.
Next year, the department will officially release a "mid-course report" to confirm and update these guidelines. The scientists and health advocates behind the original recommendations believe they are still accurate. So they have chosen to review one aspect of the guidelines: "strategies for increasing physical activity among youth."
The final report will present an evaluation of interventions to increase physical activity in five settings: schools; preschools and child care centers; the community; family and home; and primary health care. Some highlights (quotes are taken from the draft report):
- Schools are an ideal setting to provide physical activity, since most children are enrolled and the school day lasts 6 to 7 hours. Evidence shows success of programs that provide "enhanced physical education (PE) (i.e., increased lesson time, delivery by well-trained specialists, and instructional practices that provide moderate-to-vigorous physical activity), as well as classroom activity breaks, activity sessions before and/or after school, and active transportation to school."
- Similarly, preschools and child care facilities offer good opportunities to provide physical activity to the more than 42 million enrolled children. "Promising interventions include those that increase time children spend outside, provide portable play equipment (e.g., balls and tricycles) on playgrounds and other play spaces, provide staff with training in the delivery of structured physical activity sessions for children and increase the time allocated for such sessions, and integrate physical active teaching and learning activities.
- Changes in the community (neighborhoods, buildings, roads, etc.) "are important because they offer the potential to increase activity for all youth, not only those who elect to participate in specific programs or activities."
- At home, kids are often exposed to food and beverage marketing via entertainment. "Media campaigns have been shown to increase physical activity and can balance the unhealthy messages youth are receiving through the media. ... social marketing, social media and Internet-based approaches, active video games, mobile phones, and outdoor activities all have promise for increasing physical activity in youth."
Photo: Catherine Holecko