Amish Kids More Active, More Healthy

Physical activity among Amish children is twice that of the non-Amish

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) When technology is put on hold, physical activity can go up, as proven in the culture and lifestyle of the Amish.

Non-Amish children are three times more likely to be overweight than children of the Old Order Amish (OOA), who are more active on average.

The findings show why all parents should encourage their children to be more physically active, according to researchers.

"Take a walk. Exercise!"

The extra physical activity may help the Amish from developing Type 2 diabetes.

"We may be able to learn something from the attitudes of the Amish," said Soren Snitker, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

"Whether children are physically active or not depends a lot on choices their parents make."

The study looked at 270 Old Order Amish children from Lancaster County in Pennsylvania.

They ranged in age from 8 to 19 and were compared to 229 children from Eastern Shore in rural Maryland. About three-quarters of the Eastern Shore children were non-Hispanic white.

Researchers measured the body mass indexes of the children, which take their height and weight into account.

They tracked how much children moved for a week using a device clipped to their hips. Movements were recorded 24 hours a day.

The children were able to remove the device when showering and bathing, and up to three nights during sleep.

Researchers then calculated the amount of energy the children burned during their activity, as well as the amount burned per minute.

They found the Amish children do an extra 34 minutes of light physical activity a day.

Compared to the other children, they spend another 53 minutes doing moderate to vigorous activity each day.

In total, non-Amish children only engaged in half the amount of moderate to vigorous activity.

And the OOA children were 3.3 times less likely to be overweight compared to the other children.

"We know from our earlier research Amish adults are just as overweight as non-Amish Americans of European origin, but they have half the incidence of Type 2 diabetes," Dr. Snitker said in a press release.

"This study suggests the Amish gain their excess weight relatively late in life, which may decrease their long-term risk of developing the disease."

Cars, electricity, TVs and computers aren't part of their lifestyle, the authors note.

"Even the youngest OOA students use active transportation to get to school, generally walking in a group," the authors said.

Amish schools consist of one-room houses and the children often have recess outside.

"The Amish lifestyle affects the whole family, involving Old Order Amish children in household or farming chores from an early age," the researchers said.

"OOA children also seem to spend a substantial amount of time in outdoor play with their siblings and neighbors, facilitated by the large size of the OOA Amish nuclear family."

The authors note their study was relatively small, but representative of the OOA population.

In addition, the OOA measurements were done three to five years after obtaining the measurements of the other children, which was collected mainly from a national survey.

The study was published online October 23 in the journal Diabetes Care by the American Diabetes Association.

The Nutrition and Obesity Research Center of Maryland, the Geriatric Research and Education Clinical Center, the National Institutes of Health, Baltimore Veterans Administration Medical Center, the US Centers for Disease Control and the American Diabetes Association funded the study.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 2, 2012
Last Updated:
November 5, 2012