I often write about how important it is to establish life habits that will set you up for success. You know I’m an advocate of exercise, eating well, early to bed and early to rise, ongoing learning, giving to the needy, and establishing meaningful personal goals. You also know that it is challenging to actually embrace all of these affirming habits because we establish so many unhealthy habits in our early life.
I recently read a study about the health of Australian 11 and 12 year olds and was shocked by what I learnt – shocked that these youngsters already had so many unhealthy habits!
Child Health Checkpoint
The Australian Child Health Checkpoint was a one-off health check of 1,800 Aussie children, aged 11 to 12 years. Led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne. The Child Health CheckPoint study assessed the health of 1800 parent/child pairs with researchers travelling to 30 Australian cities and regional areas over a year. The results have been published in the latest edition of British Medical Journal Open.
These are the key findings:
- Australian children aren’t active enough. They spend around 11 hours a day sedentary, 40 per cent of this 11 hours is in front of screens.
- A quarter of children and two thirds of their parents are overweight or obese.
- Australian children are getting more sleep than children in most other countries, spending on average nine-and-half hours sleep, however the quality of their sleep is not always great.
- The research found some health conditions are more influenced by genes than others. Bone health is strongly influenced by background (80 percent hereditary correlation), whereas heart health is more likely to be shaped by lifestyle factor.
- 13 percent of kids tested were found to have at least a slight hearing loss –and more than a quarter of parents had some hearing loss.
Are you as shocked as me?
Do these findings also shock you? As you know it is challenging to live well – to keep your body, mind and soul in tip-top condition. You have to be disciplined. You have to work at it, and you need to establish good habits. But too many Australian children have bad habits by the time they are 11 years old – they are couch-potatoes!
According to the official study media release, long, unbroken stretches of sitting time are common among Australian 11-12 year olds. These kids spend an average of 11 hours each day sitting, meanwhile their parents only spend nine hours sitting still.
Professor Timothy Olds of University of South Australia’s Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity (ARENA) said the results show that Australian children have high levels of sitting and only modest levels of physical activity.
“Previous Australian research found high levels of sedentary time tended to comprise about 40 per cent screen time and 25 per cent sitting at school, with the rest taken up with sedentary social occasions, eating and passive transport,” Prof Olds said.
“There is mounting evidence that while not all types of sedentary time are equally harmful, television is especially linked to unfavourable health outcomes. It may be that the makeup of sedentary time is as important as the overall duration.”
Activity recorded with a wrist accelerometer
In the study, the children and parents wore a wrist accelerometer for eight days. Researchers then classified every minute of waking time while wearing the device as either sedentary, or light, moderate or vigorous physical activity.
According to the Australian Government’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines, children aged five to 12 years should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily, while those aged over 18 years are advised to do a minimum 30 minutes at least five times a week.
The guidelines also encourage people to break up long periods of sitting and to limit screen time for children in this age group to no more than two hours a day. While the accelerometer could not distinguish between different types of sedentary time, the data did reveal that children had longer unbroken sedentary periods than their parents.
Prof Olds said that in many cases the device recorded such extended periods of stillness that researchers thought the child might have fallen asleep. It was only after cross-checking with the self-reported time-use recalls that they found the kids were in fact awake and watching TV.
Watching TV is particularly unhealthy
He said watching shows or videos on TV or devices was even more sedentary than gaming, which required some level of interaction.
“Hours spent watching TV, may be a marker of general household dysfunction, poor routines and less emphasis on health. The more hours of TV, the worse outcomes across the board from blood pressure to academics and quality of life,” Prof Olds said.
Make sure the kids in your life are active!
If you are a parent or you have children in your life, please encourage them to exercise and establish health lifestyle habits! Australians have a current life expectancy of 82 years but future generations are not expected to live as long. It’s not because we don’t have enough good food, or enough medicines or a functioning health system. Future generations of Australians will not live as long because they will succumb to lifestyle diseases. They will suffer from more heart disease, diabetes, obesity and kidney disease, simply because they are not looking after their bodies.
What chance do these 11 and 12 year olds have of establishing healthy lifestyle patterns if they are spending more than four-and-half-hours a day on a couch in front of the TV now? Add the school, travel and eating times and they are spending 11.5 hours on their bottoms!
These frightening statistics also demonstrate the difficulty for adult Australians to stay active – we also had some bad childhood patterns. As children, we also probably spent too much time on the couch watching TV, but many of us who are now middle-aged also had childhoods where our parents threw us out of the house regularly and told us to go roller skating or ride a bike! Thank goodness for that.
Remember, it is still too easy to slip into sloth-mode and stay on your backside. Instead you need to get motivated and get active. Ride a bike, go for a walk or a run, head to the gym!
Australia, it’s time we stopped our bad habits!
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