More than Half of U.S. Children Lack Adequate Cardiorespiratory Fitness

A new scientific statement from the American Heart Association suggests that 60% of American kids do not regularly engage in healthy cardiorespiratory fitness.

The statement, published in Circulation, expounded upon current trends and research showing that children receive less health cardiorespiratory fitness and physical activity than generations in the past. This increase in sedentary lifestyle, the authors warned, put children at risk of premature heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension at younger ages, as well as increased risk for premature death from heart disease and strokes when the reach adulthood.

“Cardiorespiratory fitness is crucial for good heart and overall health both in childhood and as children become adults,” said co-author Geetha Raghuveer, MD, MPH, FAHA, chair of the writing committee for the new scientific statement, a cardiologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital and professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri, both in Kansas City, Missouri, in a press release. “We’ve got to get kids moving and engaged in regular physical activity, such as in any sports they enjoy. The best activity is the activity a child or teen likes and that is sustained for a longer period. The habits they learn when they’re young will directly benefit their health as they become adults.”

The document noted that just 40% of American youth are currently believed to have health cardiorespiratory fitness. This has implications, the authors said, not only for cardiometabolic health, but also for academic performance, cognitive health, and mental health. The statement also outlined various ways practitioners and individuals can keep track of cardiorespiratory health throughout youth and into young adulthood, using the data to determine whether and when lifestyle interventions are appropriate or needed. One of the commonly employed methods is cardiopulmonary exercise tests (CPETs), which include running and step tests. According to the document, the most accurate measure of cardiorespiratory fitness in youth is the gas-analyzed VO2 peak obtained during a CPET, which cannot be universally performed. The authors recommended CPETs with more effort than those with less. One of the drawbacks of these tests, however, is uniform reporting and data collection. The authors noted a need for standardization of testing protocols and interpretation uniformity. The also recommended community-clinic partnerships for easy sharing of data and fitness assessments.

“Every child would benefit from cardiorespiratory fitness testing as part of a yearly physical and doing so may identify children who would benefit from lifestyle interventions that can help improve health,” Dr. Raghuveer added.