Are Our Children Getting Weaker?

Children are getting weaker as they spend more time indoors on the computer rather than outside according to a recently published study in Acta Paediatrica. 10-year-olds may be adept at moving their fingers over keyboards and using their thumbs to text, but they are not able to do push-ups and hang from bars in gym class as they used to, says one of the study’s authors, Gavin Sandercock, a children’s fitness expert from Essex University. However, the children in the study had the same body mass index (BMI) as those a decade earlier; this suggests that, in view of their strength declining, their bodies are likely to contain more fat than muscle.

These are depressing findings, but they do seem to be corroborated by the realities of modern life, of children not able to play outside because of fears of safety, injury and — should a child be hurt falling out of some homeowner’s tree or on their driveway — lawsuits. Also, children in some urban settings can’t go outside to play as it’s simply too dangerous. Accordingly, the computer, the Wii, the TV and the like have replaced playgrounds for many.

The Guardian describes more of the researchers’ findings in studying a group of 315 10-year-olds in 2008 and 309 children the same age in 1998; both groups of children were from Essex:

-the number of sit-ups 10-year-olds could do declined by 27.1% between 1998 and 2008

-the children’s arm strength fell by 26% and grip strength by 7%

-while one in 20 children in 1998 could not hold their own weight when hanging from wall bars, one in 10 could not do so in 2008

Commenting on these findings, Dr. Sandercock says:

“This is probably due to changes in activity patterns among English 10-year-olds, such as taking part in fewer activities like rope-climbing in PE and tree-climbing for fun. Typically, these activities boosted children’s strength, making them able to lift and hold their own bodyweight.

The fact that 10% could not do the wall bars test and another 10% refused to try was “really shocking. That probably shows that climbing and holding their own weight was something they hadn’t done before.”

There’s no substitute for good old-fashioned physical activity in raising healthy children. My teenage son Charlie loves his iPad. But he also love to be outdoors riding his bike for miles, walking — and running — down the street, and swimming in ocean waves. My husband and I have made some extra efforts to keep Charlie active as he’s on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum. Daily physical activity has gone a long way in helping to improve his behavior issues.  Plus, who wouldn’t feel a sense of self-confidence after biking (as Charlie did today) 17 miles in our neighborhood?

Care2 blogger Judy Molland writes regularly about keeping kids active in the great outdoors. Rather than throw up our hands in surrender that we’re raising a generation of weak kids, let’s all go out in the great outdoors and walk, run, bike, swim and breathe in the good fresh air, maybe even from the top of a tree — or a mountain we’ve hiked up all the way to the top.


Photo by USDAgov.

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jane richmond
jane richmond4 years ago

With movement and exercise come strength. Our children are driven everywhere they no longer walk. They watch TV and play video games instead of going outside to participate in group activities. We are all turning into couch potatoes.

Lika S.
Lika S.4 years ago

Back when I was a kid, you could be out in the neighborhood, and be relatively safe because kids tended to hang out in groups, and would take in extra to make their group bigger, because safety comes in numbers...

Now there are too many bullies. I end up being more worried about my son now, with the way kids act in my neighborhood.

Kaitlin Carney
Kaitlin Carney4 years ago

This is so sad. I was never one for organized sports in school, but they do help keep kids active. Now the school district in a neighboring town is cutting school sponsored sports due to budget woes. Hopefully those kids will find another way to engage in their sports. I feel so bad for the low income students who won't be able to pay to participate in their sport any more.

Faith Purdy
Faith Purdy4 years ago

this article makes me want to go for a hike or a nice long walk :)

Kelly Levans
Kelly Levans4 years ago

I spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid - we've got a big yard. We have a swing, and I spend a fair amount of time on that. But city kids... Must have to go to a park or something.

colleen prinssen
colleen p.4 years ago

again and again. a lot of those suggestions only work if you have it. where I live kids can go cannoing. but I can only imagen in some places, it is a 3 hour drive one way, to go canoing.

where I am there are woods, in some places people don't have back yards. perhaps someone make a petition to push for more and more parks. there is got to be lots of abandoned lots and buildings one could buy to convert it to one, or some type of "indoor" gym-park club so no yucky people hop a fence and do drugs.

the other thing is how many parks can one go to "alone"

Petra Luna
Petra Luna4 years ago

Unfortunately, parents both work, often leaving kids to be in with games rather than out because no one is available to keep an eye on kids.

Then, to make matters worse, single parents of both genders don't have the means to spend that quality time with their kids like the older generation did with theirs. No one goes camping, canoeing, etc anymore.

Nimue Pendragon
Nimue Pendragon4 years ago

Feed them healthy food, get them out in the fresh air (if you can find any) and get them to do some exercise. Ignore the whinging and complaining, they'll thank you in the end :)

Rosie Lopez
Rosie Lopez4 years ago

too many video games

Judith Corrigan
Judith Corrigan4 years ago

There are reasons that children don't go out as much as they used to. For example risk of skin cancer,risk of kidnapping,risk of being a victim of crime,no clean and safe areas for children,risk of harm from broken glass/used syringes,lawsuits for injury,no spare time for hardworking parents to name but a few.