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Consequences of Youth Physical Inactivity:

The following is excerted from: Promoting Better Health for Young People Through Physical Activity and Sports, A Report to the President From the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Education.


Graphic: SwingingAmerica loves to think of itself as a youthful nation focused on fitness. But behind the vivid media images of robust runners, Olympic Dream Teams, and rugged mountain bikers is the troubling reality of a generation of young people that is, in large measure, inactive, unfit, and increasingly overweight.

The consequences of the sedentary lifestyles lived by so many of our young people are grave. In the long run, physical inactivity threatens to reverse the decades-long progress we have made in reducing death and suffering from cardiovascular diseases. A physically inactive population is at increased risk for many chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis. In addition to the toll taken by human suffering, surges in the prevalence of these diseases could lead to crippling increases in our national health care expenditures.

Physical inactivity has contributed to an unprecedented epidemic of childhood obesity that is currently plaguing the United States.

In the short run, physical inactivity has contributed to an unprecedented epidemic of childhood obesity that is currently plaguing the United States. The percentage of young people who are overweight has doubled since 1980.1 Of children aged 5 to 15 who are overweight, 61% have one or more cardiovascular disease risk factors, and 27% have two or more.2 The negative health consequences linked to the childhood obesity epidemic include the appearance in the past two decades of a new and frightening public health problem: type 2 diabetes among adolescents. Type 2 diabetes was previously so rarely seen in children or adolescents that it came to be called “adult-onset diabetes.” Now, an increasing number of teenagers and preteens must be treated for diabetes and strive to ward off the life-threatening health complications that it can cause.

Obesity in adolescence also has been associated with poorer self-esteem and with obesity in adulthood. Among adults today, 25% of women and 20% of men are obese.3 The total costs of diseases associated with obesity have been estimated at almost $100 billion per year, or approximately 8% of the national health care budget.4 

In January 2000 the nation issued Healthy People 2010,5 its health objectives for the decade. Unlike previous sets of national health objectives, Healthy People 2010 included a set of leading health indicators—10 high-priority public health areas for enhanced public attention. The fact that the first leading health indicator is physical activity and the second is overweight and obesity speaks clearly to the national importance of these issues.

Enhancing efforts to promote participation in physical activity and sports among young people is a critical national priority. That is why, on June 23, 2000, President Clinton issued a directive to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Education to work together to identify and report within 90 days on “strategies to promote better health for our nation’s youth through physical activity and fitness” (Appendix 1). 

The President instructed the Secretaries to include in this report strategies for

  • Promoting the renewal of physical education in our schools and the expansion of after-school programs that offer physical activities and sports in addition to enhanced academics and cultural activities.

  • Encouraging participation by private-sector partners in raising the level of physical activity and fitness among our young people.

  • Promoting greater coordination of existing public and private resources that encourage physical activity and sports.

Furthermore, the President directed the Secretaries to work with the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and other private and nongovernmental sports organizations, as appropriate. The President concluded his directive by saying: “By identifying effective new steps and strengthening public-private partnerships, we will advance our efforts to prepare the nation’s young people for lifelong physical fitness."

Contact Information

Kristy Blower
Physical Activity Coordinator
West Virginia Bureau for Public Health
Division of Health Promotion
Room 206
350 Capitol Street
Charleston, WV 25301-3715

(304) 558-0644"

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This page was last updated 03/26/01.
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