Generation of children see health get off track

WE SHOULD be indebted to the American Heart Association for taking the considerable trouble to prove what we all must have known but dared not bring ourselves to accept in the absence of empirical evidence.

The association's commitment to the cause is not fly by night, nor is that of those whose studies it has analysed, dating back now until at least 1964.

The most basic of comparisons looked at cardiovascular fitness in capacity to run distances from 800 to 3200 metres. Good old- fashioned stuff, nothing too trendy or requiring scientific equipment or speculation, just how far children can run in a set time or how long to run a set distance.

The results of the long-term comparisons are stark. Put most simply, the youngsters of today run 1600 metres, 90 seconds slower than their parents.

Of course we are not talking about the talented athletic child she or he may well be faster, or at least on a par, with mum and dad because they probably have access to a specific opportunity or motivation.

But even there as you move ever so slowly down the pyramid of performance, the depth starts to drop off very quickly compared to the previous generation.

The reasons for this are easily determined. The consequences are horrific.

As a nation we already spend way too much from public coffers on expensive cholesterol drugs, heart procedures and time away from productive activity. Way more than 30 years ago, and it has nothing to do with us becoming any more generous.

Lazy people blackmail the rest of us into supporting them to ridiculous extremes because we rightly don't want them to die before our eyes. There are many genuine cases of course, but a huge proportion can avoid ever being in that position.

In Australia, Tasmania in particular, the problem begins fairly and squarely at school.

First and foremost, unlike their parents, too many kids today don't walk or ride their bikes to and from school, or even to the bus stop to get there. If there is a soundly based fear that something other than improved physical condition might happen to them on the way, then more parents and carers might consider walking or riding with them instead of taking the car.

But even more so, the problem lies in what happens when they are at school. Too little activity, too many cop-out exemptions, too much flexibility in the hands of school principals and boards to enable them to ignore physical activity, education or sport at the slightest of trendy whims.

School sport in Tasmania is now a shadow of its former self. Our kids will be no different, unless its a worse scenario, than the American children whose cardiovascular endurance has fallen more than 5 per cent a decade since 1970.

The AHA says that children are around 15 per cent less fit in this regard than their parents, and a very considerable proportion of this is explained by increases in fat mass.

Compulsory physical education and some form of sporting activity, not necessarily competitive, for every child every week is the simple solution.

It's survival, not rocket science.

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