Review: plenty of health reasons to get those young kids active

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If being active is good for you — and you know it is — how important is it for young kids? Very, suggests a new review of the research out of the United Kingdom. The review points to how running about and playing sports as children links to numerous health benefits, many of which relate to lowering cancer risk decades later as adults.

For the review, researchers at the British Heart Foundation for Public Health England, part of the UK’s Department of Health, looked at how activity improves 5- to 11-year-olds mental, physical and long-term behaviors.

After finding then rating the studies, the review found strong evidence that activity helps kids’ cardiometabolic health, which puts them at lower risk to develop type 2 diabetes, obesity and other issues related to poor metabolic health. These studies generally focused on how physical activity linked to risk factors for chronic diseases, such as insulin levels and markers of inflammation. Many of these risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes are also shared factors for increased cancer risk.

Here’s the PDF of the evidence review, and below is the summary of what they found.

Rapid evidence review on the effect of physical activity participation among children aged 5 –11 years. Public Health England
Rapid evidence review on the effect of physical activity participation among children aged 5–11 years. Public Health England

Evidence relating to how physical activity improves body fatness/composition was not as consistent and was challenging to interpret, the researchers note. Increasing activity among normal weight children typically had little effect on body fat. Among kids who are overweight/ obese, some evidence indicates that physical activity links with lowering overall body fatness as well as fat around the waist, they write. However, there’s some contradictory evidence to this.

Because overweight kids are more likely to become overweight adults, this is a major area for adult cancer and other chronic diseases. About one in three kids in the US – and the United Kingdom – are now overweight. Overweight and obesity links to increased risk of ten cancers.

Whether active kids grow into active adults is another area of study that needs more research. A couple long-term term studies that tracked kids over time — one lasting 21 years and the other 32 years — indicates that a running kid may turn into a running teen then adult, but the evidence was not strong enough to be conclusive.

As the report shows, there is strong evidence that physical activity gives kids plenty of other benefits as well, such doing well at school, improved concentration and more confidence.

For fun summer activities to do with kids, we have lots of ideas on our HealthyKids site.


Author: Mya Nelson

Mya R. Nelson is at American Institute for Cancer Research, where she writes about the research in the field.

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