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Less Exercise Now, More Disease Later? The Critical Role of Childhood Exercise Interventions in Reducing Chronic Disease Burden


  • Christina D. Economos PhD

    1. Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts
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Reprint requests to Christina D. Economos, PhD, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, 711 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111. E-mail:



An astounding number of children these days are overweight, physically inactive, and consuming sub-optimal diets, placing the future health status of our nation in jeopardy. These unhealthy lifestyle behaviors are known to influence the development of many debilitating and life-threatening diseases. Physical inactivity alone increases the incidence of at least 17 unhealthy conditions—either chronic diseases or risk factors for chronic diseases. It is desirable for children to spend at least 60 minutes, and up to several hours per day, engaged in age- and developmentally appropriate activity. Regrettably, few children meet this recommendation. Interventions aimed at increasing physical activity in children have used a variety of strategies: enhancing physical education, increasing active commuting, decreasing television viewing, and risk-factor-specific training. Successful interventions have reported positive results ranging from increased time spent in physical education class, to decreased hypertension, to increased bone density. These interventions should serve as models to provide replicable elements for widespread implementation. However, more research is needed to identify and understand the modifiable behavioral and environmental variables that can have a substantial impact on physical inactivity. Healthcare providers can make a difference by providing clear and consistent messages that guide children and their caregivers toward achieving the recommendations for physical activity and the development of recreational skills that support lifetime activity.

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