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Benefits - Obesity and Physical Activity: The Foundation Position - Part One

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Failure to address the development of regular exercise behaviors and good nutrition at an early age has major health and economic consequences:


  • 300,000 deaths a year caused by obesity(cigarette smoking is 400,000)
  • $117 billion in 2000—health costs attributed to obesity


(The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity, 2001)


In addition to premature death and disability and health care costs, the negative impacts of obesity manifest in lost productivity and social stigmatization.


Most experts believe that physical inactivity is responsible for excessive caloric intake and the ensuing prevalence of overweight and obesity.


  • 40 percent of adults—no exercise
  • 33 percent of adults meet thirty minutes a day—five days a week exercise standard
  • 35 percent of adolescents report twenty minutes a day— three days a week exercise but no national data on Federal recommendation of sixty minutes a day— six days a week exercise standard (The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity, 2001)
  • Only one state, Illinois, mandates daily physical education for school children K-twelve (AAHPERD, 1997).
  • Daily enrollment in physical education classes dropped from 42 percent to 25 percent among high school students between 1991 and 1995 (Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, 1996)


The result, according to the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity (December, 2001):


  • 1999:
    -61 percent of U.S. adults are overweight
    -13 percent of children aged six to eleven are overweight
    -14 percent of adolescents aged twelve to nineteen are overweight


  • during last twenty years the percent of children overweight has doubled (7 to 13 percent)
     percent of adolescents overweight has tripled (5 to 14 percent)
  • overweight and obesity higher in females, racial and ethnic minority populations
  • women of lower socioeconomic status are about 50 percent more likely to be obese than better-off counterparts.




Why an exercise approach to obesity?


  • Most experts agree that changing behaviors related to food consumption is extraordinarily difficult because of family, cultural, socio-economic, and environmental factors and emotion-laden relationships to food.
  • Given adequate levels of physical activity and caloric output, food consumption and caloric intake becomes less problematic.
  • While wellness is advanced by a balanced and nutritious diet, it cannot be achieved without adequate levels of physical activity.
  • Research shows that as physical activity levels increase, overweight and obesity decreases.
  • Approaching food choices as optimizing fuel requirements of fitness avoids many of the emotional issues associated with food.
  • The combination of diet and exercise has been shown to be superior to diet alone in treating obesity in children.




Why youth physical activity and not general population physical activity?


  • Preventing the onset of overweight and obesity is more effective than reversing its course.
  • Sports and fitness participation increases confidence and self-esteem which are inversely related to being overweight and obesity. Increased physical activity results in increased self-esteem for pre-adolescents.
  • From the perspective of the general public, youth physical activity and obesity is a more critical issue than adult physical activity and obesity. We care more about our children than ourselves.




Why is the Women’s Sports Foundation focusing on the youth obesity issue?


  • Girls are underserved by existing sports and physical activity programs and, as a result are more likely to be sedentary and at higher risk for obesity. For instance, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Sports in Society (CSSS), girls in the Boston urban area have one-sixth the sports opportunities that girls in the suburbs have.
  • Research demonstrates that early exposure to sports and physical activity increases the likelihood of continued participation. For example, if girls do not participate in sport by the age of ten, there is less than a 10 percent chance that they will be participating at age twenty-five.
  • Daily physical education in primary school appears to have a significant long-term positive effect on exercise habits in women. They are more active as they age.
  • Female athletes are more likely to try to lose weight; and are more likely than non-athletes to use dieting and exercise to do so.
  • In all grade levels, girls get significantly less activity than boys, yet 75 percent of them feel they get enough exercise.
  • Researchers from Penn State say exercise may be more important than calcium consumption for young women to ensure proper bone health as they get older. They studied 81 young women, aged twelve to sixteen, beginning in 1990. When the girls reached eighteen, the researchers found no relationship between calcium consumption and bone mineral density. However, there was a strong link between physical activity and bone mineral density (BMD). The researchers found that consistent activity, rather than fitness or exercise intensity, was the best predictor of healthy levels of BMD.
  • Fewer high school girls meet the standards for vigorous physical activity and strengthening exercises than boys. The gender difference for vigorous physical activity is 18.8 percent (72.3 percent vs. 53.5). There is also a decline in physical activity with increasing age. This trend is more dramatic for girls than for boys. For example, between ninth and twelfth grades the percentage of boys meeting the vigorous physical activity standard set by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (activities that cause sweating and hard breathing for at least twenty minutes on three or more of the days preceding the survey) declines by 10 percent, but for girls the decline is 23 percent.

    Read more: Benefits – Obesity and Physical Activity: The Foundation Position – Part Two

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