Physical Inactivity in America


One of the biggest keys to my success in life has been physical activity — on a daily basis. I attribute my success in life to a P.E. teacher and his class back in my hometown of Wrightsville, Georgia. Back then, P.E. was a life changer for me and it can be for children today. Sadly, physical inactivity is one of the biggest issues negatively affecting life in the U.S. right now. And, one of the big age groups which physical inactivity is impacting is children who are aged six to 17. 

‘Inactivity Pandemic’ Reports Healthcare, Academics, & Military Readiness Are Impacted

The three big side effects of physical inactivity are sad, but, fortunately, reversible:

  1. In 2017, life expectancy in the U.S. declined for the second straight year
  2. Roughly 75 percent of all U.S. teens are not fit enough to join the military
  3. Only seven percent of American children are physically active to CDC standards

Again, the common element affecting those negative trends in American life is physical inactivity. Right now, nearly 83 million Americans are physically inactive and not exercising, according to PHIT America. The side effects of physical inactivity are being felt across the U.S. on multiple fronts.

“The declines in physical activity are impacting healthcare costs, national fitness, life expectancy and ability of this country to recruit enough fit military personnel,” said Jim Baugh, Founder, PHIT America, who commented on the findings of PHIT America’s newly released 2018 ‘Inactivity Pandemic’ Report.

According to PHIT America’s latest study, the number of children who are physically active is getting smaller. Yes, U.S. children are increasingly physically inactive and not playing sports like past generations have. 

From 2012 to 2017, the number of six to 12-year-old and 13 to 17-year-old children in the U.S. who are physically active, exercising, riding bikes, swimming, and playing ball with friends — like I did in Wrightsville, Georgia — has dropped. Sadly, there are similar patterns of physical inactivity by Americans of all ages in all states. 

The negative trend of those participation statistics is reinforced by the overall national trend of more casual sports participants and fewer core sports participants. Since 2007, casual sports participation has been on the rise, while core sports participation has been steadily dropping. Furthermore, the percentage of children now playing team sports in the U.S. is also on the decline – going from 43.1 percent of children in 2012 to 40.7 percent of kids in 2017. Those statistics are sad and staggering.

Globally, U.S. kids are in bad shape, which is sad, staggering and unnecessary. A recent study by the “British Journal of Sports Medicine” placed American children in 47th place in a global fitness test with children from 50 countries. This lack of national fitness is impacting America’s ability to defend its sovereignty, according to the U.S. Army.

“A lack of physical activity amongst today’s youth does cause significant challenges for the U.S. Army. Only 29 percent of youth meet the qualifications to join the military, and obesity is the leading disqualifier,” said Major General Jeffrey Snow, commanding general of U.S. Army Recruiting Command, Fort Knox, Kentucky.

For society as a whole, the biggest key to solving the physical inactivity crisis may well be companionship. According to research from Sports Marketing Surveys USA, the two biggest outside factors which motivate people to get physically active are (1) “having someone to take part with” and (2) “having a friend take me along.”

Schools are also an ideal place to reignite physical activity in the U.S. However, as with most areas of life, finances are also an issue when it comes to the activity, or inactivity, of children in today’s schools. There is a huge need for the grants and other financial support for P.E., as many school districts have cut back on P.E. and eliminated recess. With the average budget for P.E. programs throughout the U.S. at only $762 per year for an entire school, it’s estimated more than 40,000 schools throughout the U.S. are in need of help.

One of the best solutions to this trend of physical inactivity in the U.S. is the return of physical education for all students in all grades at all schools. Research by Sports Marketing Surveys USA has revealed the lifetime impact of P.E.

“Students who receive P.E. in school are two to three times more likely to be physically active out of school,” said Keith Storey, Vice President, Sports Marketing Surveys USA (Jupiter, Florida) “P.E. also impacts the activity levels of adults, as 39 percent of adults in the U.S. who didn’t have P.E. are physically inactive, while just 21 percent of adults in the U.S. who did have P.E. are physically inactive.”

I’m happy to report that P.E. is still impacting my life based on the number of push-ups, sit-ups and dips that I do every day. P.E. was good for me and I know it will be good for others.

Herschel Walker is Celebrity Ambassador for PHIT America.

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