How Fit Are Young Teens?

Teens got majority of overall exercise at school but still fell short of exercise recommendations

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh

(RxWiki News) As teen obesity rates climb, the role of schools in shaping students' exercise habits has come under intense scrutiny. And there may be a good reason why.

A new study found that, even though the majority of teens' overall physical activity took place at school, that amount represented only a small portion of their time spent there.

"Adolescents are among the least physically active age groups and therefore are at risk for obesity and chronic disease," wrote lead study author Jordan A. Carlson, PhD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri, and colleagues. "Increasing youth physical activity to support metabolic health requires strategies for increasing use of physical activity–supportive locations (e.g. neighborhoods) and environmental and program improvements in unsupportive locations (e.g. schools, homes)."

For this study, Dr. Carlson and team looked at 549 healthy teens between ages 12 and 16 from Baltimore, MD, and Seattle, WA. GPS devices and accelerometers were used to track the amount and portion of time these teens spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) at home, at school, in their neighborhoods and in other locations.

Dr. Carlson and team found that these teens averaged 39 minutes per day of MVPA across all locations — an amount which placed them among the estimated 92 percent of US teens who don’t get the 60 minutes of daily exercise recommended for healthy development and obesity prevention.

While these teens spent 4.8 percent of their time at school engaging in physical activity, this time accounted for more than 42 percent of their overall daily exercise.

These teens were much more likely to be active when they were outdoors near home and school, however.

According to Dr. Carlson and team, teen physical activity could be increased by decreasing time spent indoors at home, increasing physical activity opportunities at school, and increasing time spent at home and school neighborhoods (where teens tended to be more active).

These researchers urged doctors and parents to advocate for safer, more pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods that make playing outside and walking to school easier for kids.

This study was published online Dec. 8 in the journal Pediatrics.

The National Institutes of Health funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
December 7, 2015
Last Updated:
December 8, 2015