According to a UN health agency study, more than 80% of teenagers worldwide do not get at least an hour of exercise a day. The results have implications for physical and mental health, as well as youth education.
Teenagers around the world are not getting enough exercise, which affects their current and future health, the World Health Organization said on Friday.
The study carried out by the UN Health Authority found that 81% of adolescents between the ages of 11 and 17 did not do at least one hour of moderate to vigorous daily physical activity such as walking, cycling, or exercising.
„Four in five teens do not experience the joy and social, physical and mental benefits of regular physical activity,“ said Fiona Bull, activity and health specialist and co-author of the paper.
The report on global trends in adolescent physical activity – the first of its kind – is based on survey data collected from 1.6 million students in 146 countries and territories between 2001 and 2015.
The results are worrying as physical activity is linked to better heart and respiratory function, mental health, and cognitive activities that have an impact on student learning. Exercise and a healthy diet are also seen by experts as keys to tackling a global obesity epidemic.
Electronic revolution ‚
The report, published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health Journal, didn’t mention why teenagers are so inactive, but a WHO co-author on the study suggested that digital technology means more young people are spending time with electronic devices
„We have seen this electronic revolution that seems to have changed the movement patterns of adolescents, encouraging them to sit more, be less active, drive more, walk less (and) generally be less active,“ she said WHO lifestyle disease expert Leanne Riley told a press conference.
Other factors can be poor infrastructure and insecurity in some countries.
Globally, the study found that there is no clear pattern of inactivity by income level or region.
The percentage of teenagers who achieved the goal ranged from 66% in Bangladesh to 94% in South Korea. High-income countries in Asia Pacific had the highest inadequate activity, while India, the United States, and 17 countries in Europe had some of the lowest rates.
„We find a high prevalence almost everywhere,“ said lead author Regina Guthold to journalists.
The study also found gender differences around the world, with 85% of girls and 78% of boys surveyed failing the daily exercise goal. Male adolescents in rich western countries and female adolescents in South Asia receive most of the movement exercises within their respective genders.
Lower inactivity rates among girls in Bangladesh and India may be due to „girls having to support household activities and chores,“ the report said.
Only in four countries – Afghanistan, Samoa, Tonga and Zambia – are girls more active than boys.
The gender gap also appears to be linked to cultural traditions keeping girls at home, as well as safety concerns when girls are outdoors.
Guthold also pointed out that „much encouragement of physical activity is more tailored to boys“.
She said this seems to explain the fact that the largest gender gap is found in the United States and Ireland, where the difference in activity levels between boys and girls was over 15 percentage points.