The adolescent years officially spans from 10-years to 19-years. Adolescence is a critical time of life.
It is a time when people become independent individuals, forge new relationships, develop social skills and learn behaviors that will last the rest of their lives.
A new study, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal and produced by researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO), finds that more than 80% of school-going adolescents globally did not meet current recommendations of at least one hour of physical activity per day – including 85% of girls and 78% of boys. They are all aged 11 to 17 years.
The study – which is based on data reported by 1.6 million 11 to 17-year-old students – finds that across all 146 countries studied between 2001-2016 girls were less active than boys in all but four (Tonga, Samoa, Afghanistan, and Zambia).
On how young peoples’ health is compromised by insufficient physical activity, the authors say that levels of insufficient physical activity in adolescents continue to be extremely high, compromising their current and future health.
“Urgent policy action to increase physical activity is needed now, particularly to promote and retain girls’ participation in physical activity,” says study author Dr. Regina Guthold, WHO.
The health benefits of a physically active lifestyle during adolescence include improved cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, bone and cardiometabolic health, and positive effects on weight.
There is also growing evidence that physical activity has a positive impact on cognitive development and socializing. Current evidence suggests that many of these benefits continue into adulthood.
To achieve these benefits, the WHO recommends for adolescents to do moderate or vigorous physical activity for an hour or more each day. The authors estimated how many 11- to 17-year-olds do not meet this recommendation by analyzing data collected through school-based surveys on physical activity levels.
The assessment included all types of physical activity, such as time spent in active play, recreation and sports, active domestic chores, walking, and cycling or other types of active transportation, physical education and planned exercise.
The authors note that if these trends of reduced physical activities continue, the global target of a 15% relative reduction in insufficient physical activity – which would lead to a global prevalence of less than 70% by 2030 – will not be achieved.
This target was agreed to by all countries at the World Health Assembly in 2018. In 2016, the Philippines was the country with the highest prevalence of insufficient activity among boys (93%), whereas South Korea showed the highest levels among girls (97%) and both genders combined (94%). Bangladesh was the country with the lowest prevalence of insufficient physical activity among boys, girls, and both genders combined (63%, 69%, and 66%, respectively).
Some of the lowest levels of insufficient activity in boys were found in Bangladesh, India and the USA. The authors note that the lower levels of insufficient physical activity in Bangladesh and India (where 63% and 72% of boys were insufficiently active in 2016, respectively) may be explained by the strong focus on national sports like cricket.
However, the US rates (64%) may be driven by good physical education in schools, pervasive media coverage of sports, and good availability of sports clubs (such as ice hockey, American football, basketball, or baseball).
For girls, the lowest levels of insufficient activity were seen in Bangladesh and India, and are potentially explained by societal factors, such as increased domestic chores in the home for girls.
Insufficient activity among adolescents a major concern “The trend of girls being less active than boys is concerning,” said study co-author Dr Leanne Riley, WHO. “More opportunities to meet the needs and interests of girls are needed to attract and sustain their participation in physical activity through adolescence and into adulthood.”
To increase physical activity for young people, governments need to identify and address the many causes and inequities – social, economic, cultural, technological, and environmental – that can perpetuate the differences between boys and girls, the authors said.
Comprehensive action requires engagement with multiple sectors and stakeholders, including schools, families, sport and recreation providers, urban planners, and city and community leaders.”