Kids' Fitness Is Improving, But They Still Aren't As Fit As Their Parents Were

Kids' fitness has declined for several decades, but some countries are showing improvement.

Photo by fishisdiane/Pixabay.

Physical fitness is important for success in sports and athletics, but it is also important for good health. If you are generally fit, you probably have a strong heart, brain, muscles, and bones, all of which help you to exercise and improve your chances of living a long, fit, and healthy life.

The most important type of fitness for good health is aerobic fitness, which is your ability to exercise or be physically active at a constant pace for a long period of time (say, more than 20 minutes), such as running, walking, biking, swimming, rowing, or playing aerobic sports such as soccer or basketball.

Monitoring national and international trends in kids’ aerobic fitness is important to understand trends in the underlying current and potential future health of a population. Research shows that if you are aerobically fit as an adult, then you are less likely to develop or die from chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. And, if you were fit as a kid, then you are more likely to be a fit and healthy as an adult.

Take a second to think about your own fitness level. Do you think you were as fit as today’s kids when you were their age?

This has been a topic of much discussion in recent decades. Most people say that kids’ fitness has declined, some say that it has not changed at all, while few are willing to say that it has improved.

To help settle this debate, our research team has spent the past two decades gathering historical fitness data on millions of kids from around the world.

Improvements in some kids

We systematically analyzed decades of data from hundreds of studies across many different countries to compare the aerobic fitness of kids of the same age and gender, all measured using the same fitness tests.

In 2003, our research was the first to conclusively show that kids’ aerobic fitness did in fact decline around the world at the end of the 20th century. In our very large study of 25 million kids aged 6 to 19 years from 27 countries, we showed that aerobic fitness declined worldwide between 1970 and 2000, with kids in 2000 about 15% less fit than their parents were when they were kids.

Yet there is some good news suggesting that kids’ fitness levels may no longer be on the slide. We recently published an update to our 2003 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which examined trends in the aerobic fitness levels of 1 million kids aged 9 to 17 years from 19 high-income (such as Australia, Canada, the United States, etc.) and upper middle-income (such as Brazil and South Africa) countries between 1981 and 2014. We measured aerobic fitness using the 20-meter shuttle run, also called the “beep” test, or the PACER test.

The beep test is the world’s most popular field test of aerobic fitness for kids. It is a progressive exercise test involving continuous running between two lines 20 meters (66 feet) apart in time to recorded beeps. The time between beeps gets progressively shorter, and the test is over when you can no longer run the 20-meter distance before the audio beep.

Our updated study confirmed that kids’ aerobic fitness levels had in fact declined in the 1980s and 1990s, but interestingly, the decline appears to have slowed since 2000 with fitness levels plateauing over the past decade.

International trends in the aerobic fitness of 12-year-olds between 1980 and 2015. Grant Tomkinson/CC BY-SA.

While trends in fitness differed between countries, most showed overall declines. After 2000, however, aerobic fitness improved in Brazil and Japan; plateaued in Australia, Canada, Greece, South Africa, and Spain; and declined in Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Today’s kids are still less fit than their parents were when they were kids, but the gap is about half as much as previously thought — and now about 7%.

What’s the cause?

We explored links between trends in aerobic fitness and trends in broad socioeconomic and health factors in each country, including income inequality, physical activity levels, and overweight and obesity levels.

The strongest indicator of a country’s fitness level was the gap between rich and poor, as measured by the Gini Index. Countries with a widening gap between the rich and poor experienced the largest declines in aerobic fitness between 2000 and 2014.

Countries with a widening gap between rich and poor tend to have a growing number of poor people. Poverty is linked to poor social and health outcomes in high-income and upper-middle income countries, known as the social determinants of health. An indirect result of poverty could be a lack of opportunities, time, and resources to be physically active and to participate in activities that improve or maintain an individual’s aerobic fitness level.

Assuming this link is causal, policies that tackle income inequalities and build on improving the social determinants of health within countries could lead to improved aerobic fitness levels to not only stem the declining fitness tide, but to turn the fitness tide around for good for people of all ages.


"Seventy percent of the Earth is covered with water, now you camp on it!" proudly declares Smithfly on the website for its new camping boat — the Shoal Tent.

Why have we waited so long for camping equipment that actually lets us sleep on the water? Because it's an awful idea, that's why.

"The world is your waterbed," Smithfly says on its site. But the big difference is that no one has ever had to worry about falling asleep and then drowning on their waterbed.

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While it is possible that one could wade into the water, unzip the tent, have a pleasant slumber, and wake up in the morning feeling safe and refreshed, there are countless things that could go terribly wrong.

The tent could float down the river and you wake up in the middle of nowhere.

You could have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

This guy.

It could spring a leak and you could drown while wrapped up in eight feet of heavy nylon.

A strong current could tip the tent-boat over.

There isn't any way to steer the darn thing.

This guy.

Mashable shared a charming video of the tent on Twitter and it was greeted with a chorus of people sharing the many ways one could die while staying the night in the Shoal Tent.

Oh yeah, it's expensive, too.

Even though the general public seems to think the Shoal Tent is a terrible idea, according to the Smithfly's website, it's currently sold out due to "popular demand" and it will be "available in 6-8 weeks." Oh, and did we mention it costs $1,999?

via zoezimmm / Imgur

There are few more perniciously dangerous conspiracy theories being shared online than the idea that vaccines cause autism.

This has led to a decline in Americans vaccinating their children, resulting in a massive increase in measles. This year has already seen over 1,200 cases of measles, a disease that was eradicated in the U.S. nearly 20 years ago.

A 2015 Pew Research study found that 83% of Americans think the measles vaccine is safe, while 9% think it's not. Another 7% are not sure. But when you look at the polls that include parents of minors, the numbers get worse, 13% believe that the measles vaccine is unsafe.

There is zero truth to the idea that vaccines cause autism. In fact, a recent study of over 650,000 children found there was no link whatsoever.

RELATED: A new study of over 650,000 children finds — once again — that vaccines don't cause autism

A great example of the lack of critical thinking shown by anti-vaxxers was a recent exchange on Facebook shared to Imgur by zoezimmm.

A parent named Kenleigh at a school in New Mexico shared a photo of a sign at reads: "Children will not be enrolled unless an immunization record is presented and immunizations are up-to-date."

This angered a Facebook user who went on a senseless tirade against vaccinations.

"That's fine, I'll just homeschool my kids," she wrote. At least they won't have to worry about getting shot up in school or being bullied, or being beat up / raped by the teachers!"

To defend her anti-vaccination argument, she used a factually incorrect claim that Amish people don't vaccinate their children. She also incorrectly claimed that the MMR vaccine is ineffective and used anecdotal evidence from her and her father to claim that vaccinations are unnecessary.

She also argued that "every human in the world is entitled to their own opinion." Which is true, but doesn't mean that wildly incorrect assumptions about health should be tolerated.

She concluded her argument with a point that proves she doesn't care about facts: "It doesn't matter what you say is not going to change my mind."

RELATED: 12 medical professionals shared their most memorable anti-vaxxer stories and you won't stop face-palming

While the anti-vaxxer was incorrect in her points, it must also be pointed out that some of the people who argued with her on Facebook were rude. That should never be tolerated in this type of discourse, but unfortunately, that's the world of social media.

Here's the entire exchange:

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The post received a ton of responses on imgur. Here are just a few:

"'In my opinion...' 'I believe...' That's not how facts work."

"You're entitled to your opinion. And everyone else is entitled to call you a dumbass."

"'What I do with my children is no concern to you at all.' Most of the time, true. When your kid might give mine polio, not true."

"If my child can't bring peanut butter, your child shouldn't bring preventable diseases."

It's important to call out people who spread dangerous views, especially how they pertain to health, on social media. But people should do so with respect and civility.


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He risked his life to leave a "historical record of our martyrdom."

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Throughout the war, over 210,000 people would be imprisoned in Lodz.

Among those held captive was Henryk Ross. He was a Jewish sports photographer before the Nazi invasion and worked for the the ghetto's Department of Statistics during the war. As part of his official job, he took identification photos of the prisoners and propaganda shots of Lodz' textile and leather factories.

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Neil Strassner was just passing through airport security, something he does on a weekly basis as part of his job. That's when a contract airport security employee handed him a small piece of folded cardboard. Strassner, 40, took the paper and continued on his way. He only paused when he heard the security employee shouting back at him, "You going to open the note?"

When he unfolded the small piece of paper, Strassner was greeted with an unprompted insult. "You ugly!!!"

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