Child Development, Public Health: Supporting an Active Lifestyle

Part 1:

Information from Dr John J. Ratey as presented at a Wellness Conference that supports my assertion that inclusion of “active lifestyle” among the indicators of Public Health is necessary and appropriate.

  • early man walked and ran 10 – 14 miles a day
  • today, adults average 9 ½ hours a day of “screen time”
  • 1 of 5 children entering Kindergarten are obese – partly due to the amount of screen time and the “fear of the outdoors”
  • Fitness and School Success:
    • Texas Study of 2.6 million students
      • An increase in fitness led to an increase in test scores, an increase in attendance, an increase in grades and a decrease in behavior issues
    • Charleston Progressive Academy:
      • An 83% drop in discipline problems when the school implemented daily exercise.
    • Stanislaus County, when it responded to the Governor’s Challenge (Physical Fitness – 30-60 minutes of physical activity a day)
      • 3-8% increase in Standardized Test Scores
    • Kansas City Missouri – PE For Life Program (Daily PE)
      • 63% drop in disciplinary referrals
    • Naperville District 203 – New PE Program
      • 3% obesity rate, and the Nation’s top scores in Science
    • Mt Sinai Medical School study on Recess with 13,000 students:
      • 30 minutes of recess per day led to higher teacher ratings of students
      • The most effective recess had the least equipment/ structures
  • The part of the brain that is “activated” while we are moving is related to the “executive function” part of the brain.
    • The executive function part of the brain is the pre-frontal area responsible for thinking, memory, etc.
  • Puzzles and exercise increases cognitive and mental health in “older age”
  • Obese 70 year olds
    • 8% less brain volume
  • Overweight 70 year olds
    • 4% less brain volume
    • Their brains “looked” 8 years older than the brains of “normal” weight people
  • Exercise in 30 year olds can reduce cognitive decline by 10-15 years.
  •  “Sedentaryism” – a sedentary lifestyle can be linked to all of the top ten “killers” and includes increased risk of substance abuse
  • Diabetes Type 2, once rare, is now seen in children
  • Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) made in every brain cell. 
    • Experiments on mice showed that mice that ran produced 4x as much BDNF, had bigger brains, and more brain cells!
    • The running mice were also 20-30% “smarter”
    • Given the opportunity, mice “ran” 4 km per night, while rats ran on a treadmill for 8- 20 km per day.
  • When you withhold play, performance on tests declines, aggression increases, and brains are smaller
  • Children in almost every species play!
  • The age of “Maximum Play” in human children:  Ages 3-7 years.
    • Perhaps not so coincidentally, this is the age of rapid brain development as well!
    • Play is the precursor to exercise.  Developing the habit of play can lead to habits of active lifestyles and improved health.

Part 2:

This is meaningful to me because I have seen first hand how unhealthy our society has become.  Not only our young children, but our early education teachers as well have increasing incidences of obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and addiction to passive media.  Even my beloved professional association, NAEYC, is in the process of revising its position paper on young children and technology to include infants and toddlers.  Research supports the correlation between physical activity and a plethora of positive outcomes from school readiness to health to economic savings.

Part 3:

Data from the report, “Promoting physical activity and active living in urban environments” the World Health Organization Europe, The role of local governments, by Peggy Edwards and Agis Tsouros, 2006 by the World Health Organization.

American type troubles:

  • Active lifestyles in Europe as it relates to public health:
  • 2/3 of those “15 years (of age) and older in the European Union are not physically active at recommended levels.”
  • Perhaps more than 14 million children in the European Union are overweight, with 3 million being obese, increasing at the rate of nearly 3% per year, due in part to declining participation in physical activity.
  • Across Europe, only about one third of the school children surveyed appeared to meet recognized physical activity guidelines.”
  • Physical inactivity results in “an estimated 600,000 deaths per year in the European Region… a loss of 5.3 million years of healthy life expectancy per year…”
  • Low-income communities have fewer healthy, affordable “retail” food choices.

Better habits exist:

  • In Copenhagen, bicyclists combine to travel more than 1 million kilometers a day along designated “cycle tracks” and bike lanes.
  • Salzberg invests more than 1 million Euros per year to support bicycling.
  • The Netherlands and Germany employ a raised “street” (called a “woonerf” in Dutch) for bicycle and pedestrian traffic.
  • A Study of eight European cities in different countries identified a positive correlation between greenery and physical activity.
  • In Kadikoy, Turkey, exercise equipment and walkways are built at public parks to encourage exercise.
  • Enacting a fee (congestion charge) in London increased cycle travel by 20%.
  • A project called “Closing the Gap” in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, promotes physical activity among socially excluded youth.
  • “The Metropolitan Municipality of Bursa, Turkey, provides organized sports activities for differently-abled people as well as municipal employees.
  • In Sandes, Norway, the Municipal Council includes the interests of children in local planning, creating over 1,200 play areas.
  • In Rome, Italy, the City Council worked with school, government and public safety officials to implement a “walking school bus” in which 1,300 children participated in 2005/2006.
  • The city of Brno, Czech Republic, “provides financial support to a summer camp for obese children.
  • Collaboration between city departments and civic groups in Stirling, Scotland provides activities for children including swimming, soccer, basketball and dance.

Part 4:  Keep doing what I do.  I will continue to fight the powers that be that for whatever reason believe that implementing failed policy with greater vigor will somehow lead to better outcomes.


5 thoughts on “Child Development, Public Health: Supporting an Active Lifestyle

  1. playadvocate says:


    I found the information presented to be interesting and useful. The comparison of American and European thinking is a real eye-opener. I would like to see pictures of the human school bus. I know I walked to school when I was a kid as young as kindergarten and now I won’t let my 4th grader walk the quarter mile to her school. We live in such different times now.
    I think the thread that runs through your post is that the communities that decided this was a priority did something about the situation, and it has long-term benefits that will carry on through the generations.
    Thanks for the posts and I look forward to reading more.


  2. Greg,
    What great information you shared! I was particularly interested in the statistics about behavior and exercise. I found this to be true first hand when I was a teacher. If we were unable to take the children outside due to weather, the children would start to go “stir crazy.” We learned to find ways to get kids moving even in the classroom to save our own sanity! However, when I was a sub in the school systems, I would hear teachers taking away recess as a punishment for misbehavior. Boy, do they have it backwards. If kids are acting up, let them run around a little longer and perhaps they’ll settle down. Those are great studies. Thanks again!

  3. Geralyn says:

    You did a great job of identifying a major public health concern that is relatively new- especially to those of us in the field of early care and education. The article Preventing Obesity in the Child Care Setting: Evaluating State Regulations, states that 24.4% of children ages two through five years are classified as either overweight or obese. In the US, nearly 74% of children ages three to six are in some type of out of home care and just over half are in center-based child care. These statistics places a lot of responsibility on preschool teachers for promoting physical activity and healthy eating habits. The article examined the healthy eating and physical activity regulations for each state and then assigned a letter grade to each state based on how many of ten basic standards were met. Standards included such basics as drinking water being available for children throughout the day and daily outdoor time. The highest grade of any state was a B and only 8 states scored a B or B-. It was very interesting to see how each state scored.

    Preventing Obesity in the Child Care Setting: Evaluating State Regulations

  4. Tiffiney says:

    Hi Gregory! Thank You for sharing your posts. It has inspired me to live and teach those that I will be caring for to live healthier lifestyles.

  5. Sara says:

    It is so true about our society and how much we focus on things other than our health and the health of our children. I know that I struggle with my weight a lot and I am very cautious with my children so that they will learn to make good choices when they grow up. It is amazing how different things are in other countries but yet how similar as well. I think that as a society we need to remember that we have to be thoughtful about the activity level of our children. Even just getting them outside for a half and hour after they come home would be a start. I know with my own children we limit the video/computer stuff to at most 30 minutes and we prefer 15. We do the same with TV at a max of an hour a day. I am very scared for the children of the future if we don’t see a change in our lifestyles. This is such interesting and great information. Thanks for sharing about this topic.

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