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Study: Few Children Meet Physical Activity and Screen-Time Guidelines

Fewer than four in 10 elementary school-age children met recommended guidelines for both daily physical activity and screen-time viewing, according to a study published online today in JAMA Pediatrics (formerly the Archive of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine).

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, the first-ever such guidelines from the federal government, recommended that children engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) on a daily basis. The guidelines also recommend limiting a child to a maximum of two hours of leisure screen-time viewing per day.

Researchers examined data from 1,218 children ages 6-11, taken from the 2009-10 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, to determine how many of them met both recommendations simultaneously.

More than 70 percent of the children in the study ended up meeting the recommended 60 minutes or more of MVPA per day, while only 3.2 percent did not engage in 60 or more minutes of MVPA on any day of the week. A total of 53.5 percent of the children were exposed to two or fewer hours per day of screen-time viewing; however, only 38.3 percent of the children studied ended up meeting both recommendations simultaneously.

Not surprisingly, a smaller percentage of obese children met the MVPA and screen-time viewing guidelines compared with their non-obese peers. Only 57.5 percent of the obese children met the MVPA recommendation and 44.2 percent met the screen-time viewing guideline. Comparatively, 73.3 percent of nonobese children were active for at least 60 minutes per day, and 55.4 percent had two or fewer hours of leisure screen-time viewing on a daily basis.

As children got older, their prevalence of sedentary behavior increased, according to the study. Of the youths ages 6-8, 76.1 percent met the MVPA recommendation and 59.1 percent met the screen-time recommendation. Of the youths ages 9-11, the rate dropped to 64.7 percent meeting the MVPA recommendation and 47.8 percent meeting the screen-time recommendation.

An interesting dichotomy emerged among the 502 Hispanic children in the study. While they were less likely than their non-Hispanic white peers to engage in the recommended amount of daily physical activity, they were more likely to meet the screen-time viewing recommendation.

"These results suggest that screen-time viewing and physical activity may be separate constructs and that low levels of screen-time viewing do not necessarily predict higher levels of physical activity," the study authors wrote.

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