Keep Your Kids Moving: Health Risks of Inactivity Start Early

Parents today are well aware that children are at risk of being less active than ever, as electronic media threatens to replace physical play. Research is now showing that the health risks of our kids’ increasingly sedentary lifestyles are very real— including type 2 diabetes and vascu­lar disease.

You may be shocked to realize that your 6-, 7-, or 8-year-old child might already be at risk for type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition that affects the way the body metabo­lizes sugar, as well as vascular dis­ease, where the circulatory system, or blood flow, is compromised. After all, we tend to think of both con­ditions as affecting older people. In fact, type 2 diabetes was once known as adult-onset diabetes; and vascular diseases, such as blocked arteries and stroke, also tend to be associated with older people. Evi­dence shows, however, that with too much screen time and not enough physical play, we might have to con­sider these health risks in our kids.

Researchers in Finland with the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children study questioned parents of almost 470 children to deter­mine their children’s level of physi­cal activity (or lack thereof), use of electronic media, and health sta­tus. They determined health status, namely risk for type 2 diabetes and vascular diseases, using measures including body fat percentage, waist circumference, blood glucose, insu­lin, cholesterol, and blood pressure.

The results of the study showed that kids who don’t get enough physical activity are at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes and vascular disease. Children in the study who used the most electronic media, especially those who watched a lot of TV and videos, had the greatest risk. Even kids who were physically active but also used a lot of elec­tronic media had increased risk for these health complications—iden­tifying screen time as a threat even with other healthy habits.

It is clear that we need to get our kids moving—not only for their future health but also for their immediate well-being.

—Mia James


Väistö J, Eloranta AM, Viitasalo A, et al. Physi­cal activity and sedentary behaviour in rela­tion to cardiometabolic risk in children: Cross-sectional findings from the Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC) Study. Inter­national Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2014;11:55. doi: 10.1186/1479- 5868-11-55.