9 in 10 Aussie teens don’t get enough exercise

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  Last updated November 25, 2019 at 10:58 am


Experts weigh in on the “highly concerning” finding that Aussie teens are among the most sedentary in the world.

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Video games is one culprit behind Aussie teens not getting enough exercise. Credit: heshphoto/Getty Images

Why This Matters: This should act as a wake up call.

Young Aussies may end up battling the bulge. They’re among the most sedentary teens in the world, according to an Australian-co-authored study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

The research looked at the physical activity of children aged between 11 and 17 from 146 countries to determine how many meet the minimum daily recommendation of an hour of activity.

Australia performed dismally, ranking 140th, and the researchers found activity levels among Aussie teens have not improved since 2001.

Aussie teens activity rates are ranking close to last

“Australian teenagers ranking close to last … is highly concerning,” Dick Telford from The University of Canberra told the Australian Science Media Centre.

Telford says the findings ring true as they’re consistent with other studies, including his own recent work which “clearly identified physical inactivity as the most significant characteristic of overweight and obese children”.

Also: Just how healthy are Aussie pre-teens?

It’s not simply the case that teenagers have always been a lazy bunch. According to Jodie Cochrane-Wilkie from Edith Cowan University, this problem appears to be worse now than it used to be.

“Compared to 30 years ago, our children do not have the same level of fundamental movement skill competency, fitness and strength. If children are unable to perform skills well … or do not have the required strength, then they are more likely to have low self-esteem and not want to participate in sport.”

UWA’s Rebecca Braham says Aussie teens may be developing bad habits that will follow them into adulthood: “The best predictors of level of physical activity in adulthood, is activity in adolescents,” she says.

David Mizrahi from UNSW agrees: “We know that inactive children are more likely to become inactive adults, so it is vital to develop these behaviours as early as possible.”

Lack of physical activity affects more than weight

And all that time on the couch may not just be affecting Aussie teens’ waistlines, according to Carol Maher from UniSA:

“Teens that are physically active have better cardiovascular fitness, stronger bones and muscles, better posture, and less depression and anxiety,” she says.

David Chapman from UTS says inactivity has other knock-on health effects too, as obesity promotes the development of asthma, increases its severity and makes it harder to treat.

Maher says Aussie teens are not alone in shirking sport: “The majority of teens around the world aren’t getting enough physical activity – 81 per cent were categorised as insufficiently active.”

Also: Surprise surprise, teens spend most of their time sitting around

However, “we were the lowest-ranked of all of the ‘western’ countries that we would usually compare ourselves to, and consider ourselves similar to,” she adds.

So what are kids doing these days instead of running around outside? Edith Cowan’s Ken Nosaka points to computer games as one culprit, while Mizrahi highlights “the rise in technology use (phones, apps, gaming consoles)” coupled with a reduction in “bike riding, walking to school and playing during school lunch-times”.

Maher says the study should act as a wake-up call for Aussies.

“Australians tend to have an image of being beach-loving, fit and healthy, but these results show it’s not the reality,” she says.

You can read the full AusSMC Expert Reaction here.

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About the Author

Joseph Milton
Joe Milton is an evolutionary biologist who, after studying the evolution of plants for ten years at various Scottish universities, made a move into journalism. Since then he has written for the Financial Times, Nature and New Scientist, among others. Joe joined the London Science Media Centre in 2010, where he was Senior Press Officer for Mental Health, before taking up the position of Senior Media Officer at the Australian Science Media Centre in July 2012.

Published By

The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) is an independent, not-for-profit service for the news media, giving journalists direct access to evidence-based science and expertise. We aim to better inform public debate on the major issues of the day by improving links between the media and the scientific community. The Centre works with journalists to help them cover science as well as identify the science angles in everyday news stories and works with the scientific community to help them interact more effectively with the media and ensure that their voices are heard on issues of national importance.

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