Childhood Inactivity Will Cost Your Kids 5 Years of Life, Says New Nike Research

A new report and spot from Nike reveals that inactive kids will live five fewer years than their parents. Thankfully, there’s a solution: Get your kids moving… now!

Outside of dread diseases, the question of mortality is rarely raised in childhood. But perhaps it should be. According to a new study, for the first time in the history in the developed world, this generation of children is expected to die five years earlier than their parents. The reason? Inactivity.

Recent research conducted by Nike and made public at found that in just two generations, the rate of active play, physical education, and overall physical activity has dropped by 20% in the U.K., 32% in the U.S., and 45% in China. This year, says the report, 5.3 million deaths will be attributed to physical inactivity while smoking, long considered a leading killer, is responsible for 5 million deaths a year.

The thorough report, Designed to Move: A Physical Activity Action Agenda, was released last week at the 8th Annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting and outlines the risk factors and the economic costs of childhood inactivity, and provides a framework for combating the problem. It suggests that governments have a significant ability to affect change through innovations in urban planning, and positions physical activity—which is linked to higher test scores in school and greater professional success—as a competitive advantage. More basically, though, the Designed To Move initiative is based on two tasks: create early positive experiences for children, and integrate physical activity into everyday life.

This message is conveyed in "5 Extra Years", a spot from Wieden + Kennedy Portland and director Lance Bangs, that asks children under the age of 10 what they’d do if they had five extra years to live. The kids’ testimonials are set against scenes of abandoned play spaces. Answers range from the impressively ambitious (like wanting to invent time machines or explore dark matter) to the charmingly unusual (like having more hamsters or convincing a sister not to hate tuna), until one kid asks, quite rightly, why they’re being asked the question. For many kids, an inactive lifestyle has become the norm. Between ages 9 and 15, American and European kids’ activity levels drop by 50-75 percent, yet focusing on getting kids more active before the age of 10 could change the trajectory for the next generation.

The challenge, of course, is that as adults we’ve largely become more sedentary due to the nature of work and ease of mobility. By framing the problem as something that affects the life expectancy of a child, the impact of Designed to Move’s message carries more weight, so to speak, and clearly places the onus of change on the grown-ups. Never has the importance of play been put in plainer terms.

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  • S.H.

    Sitting in the Pediatritians office with my 7 month old son on my lap as the doctor goes through her questions with my husband and I:
    She:How many hours a day does the baby watch Television?
    We have gotten this question before. Even When our son was into his first weeks of life, (as with many other children) we were asked what the content of his tv intake was.
    I say to her that my son doesn't watch any television, we don't watch much television ourselves (besides the occasional cancelled sitcom, documentaries and other films). But I am aware that many parents are using the television as a "babysitter" as described by heathcare personnel. I'm not sure if the polled 9-15 year old people that have had a rapid decline in activity level had this same amount of television exposure at such earlier ages as well. In studies done in 2010, researchers found that children of all ages are staying indoors, and watching more television. Data from the Nielsen Company shows that of all the types of media that children are exposed to (video games, cell phones, t.v., and computers) these children are engaged for more than 28 hours a week. Kaiser Family Foundation concluded their study at a staggering 7 hours and 38 minutes that children were interacting with today's media. Smaller children 2-5 are being popped mainly in front of the tv to watch favorite rerun shows for 32.5 hours a week (Nielsen) while the older children are involved 4 hours less on average, which reseachers say is due to school.
    The introduction of hand-held devices increases the amount of time to 53 hours a week per child, not including "texting".
    Terms such as Nature Deficit Disorder and Videophilia aren't to be taken in light, children are having higher levels of obesity and even perhaps ADHD.If these children choose not to be outside or are essentially forced to watch television early on by their parents, we will see a world that will not understand how nature works and will be uninterested nonetheless.  Outdoor time can be a creative and exploratory outlet for children of all ages, and without young people to care about our planet in the future, it will suffer from television mesmorism.
    So before bed, after our ouchy doctor's visit where more shots are injected and bandaids cover the wounds, we read.  We keep books in our house, books in bookshelves. His and ours. The 25 minute a day average reading rate is obsolete in our household, and I hope more young people will just get a chance to know wonder and imagination before having a skewed life zapped into them from media, and sadly ... out of them before their time.

  • Jo Roberts

    I think the ability to play, or to amuse oneself without structure, is a dying art. It is evident not only in children but in adults as well. 

    How many families have filled in their week with structured activities? My family has soccer training Tuesday and Thursday and the game on Sunday. Singing lessons on Saturday and band practice after school Thursday. My children actually get bored very quickly when they are not at these activities and find it difficult to just go outside and 'muck around', or amuse themselves. As parents, our after hours time was spent getting our kids to/from these activities and then catching up on house work when were are at home. We very rarely played either.

    The answer in our house is to set aside some play time for the whole family. Physical activity outside, laughter, enjoying each others' company must happen regularly. It helps to strengthen the family unit, generates communication and makes sure we are up and active together.

    Quality play time for all is essential to a healthy work, life balance!