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Survey Results Link Parental Physical Activity to Children's Behaviors

Parents who decide it's critical for their children to be physically active and are physically active themselves have children who are also active. What gets children moving is what parents do, not what parents say.

A survey of parents' and children's physical activity patterns shows that parents who are active themselves, play with their children, watch children compete or play, or take children to physical activity or sports events have more physically active children. The national survey, released July 1, 1997, was commissioned by the International Life Sciences Institute's (ILSI) Physical Activity and Nutrition Program (PAN).

ILSI made three recommendations for action when releasing the survey results.

Physical activity should be a family affair. Parents need to say "no more excuses" and take responsibility for providing motivation and support for children's physical activity. Parents should be active in promoting lifelong enjoyment of physical activity.

Parents need to insist schools put the fourth R back into the curriculum: Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic, and Recreation. Daily physical education classes should be reinstated at all grade levels with the content revamped to give children maximum enjoyment and benefit.

Community programs need to consult parents and children to ensure that activities appeal to children and are fun. Only in this way can physical activity compete with sedentary activities such as watching television, surfing the Web, and playing video games.
In the survey of 1,504 households, one parent and one child from grades 4-12 were interviewed to identify predictors of activity levels in children and how the family's role shapes behaviors. According to the survey, fewer than one in four children gets 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a day. Physical activity, while critical to the healthy growth and development of children and beneficial throughout life, is not a part of every child's daily existence.

The survey also revealed that parents and children want more physical activity opportunities in their communities and are willing to volunteer and help turn underutilized public school facilities, such as playgrounds, gyms, and swimming pools, into recreational centers during nonschool hours year-round.

As parents and children express interest in expanding nonschool opportunities for physical activity, some schools have dropped physical education requirements altogether. "Just as we're learning how important physical activity is to the health of young people and adults, we're seeing a decline in the number of schools that require daily physical education," says Lloyd Kolbe, director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's division of adolescent and school health.

"The survey data amounts 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," says James O. Hill, Ph.D., chairman of the PAN Advisory Committee, professor of pediatrics and medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, and a member of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases' National Task Force on Prevention and Treatment of Obesity. "Daily physical activity for children needs to become a priority for parents equal to that of buckling seat belts," he says.

For information on PAN or the survey's executive summary, contact the International Life Sciences Institute, 1126 Sixteenth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036-4810; phone: (202) 659-0074; fax: (202) 659-3859; e-mail: ilsi@dc.ilsi.org; Web site: http://www.ilsi.org.

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