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Many Pre-teens Don't Exercise at All, Study Finds

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WASHINGTON - America's kids are even more deeply rooted couch potatoes than experts initially thought.

Roughly 3 out of 5 kids ages 9 to 13 report that they don't participate in sports or other coached physical activities outside school, according to a first-of-its-kind nationwide survey of children and their parents to be released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

About 1 in 4 kids in that age group had gotten no exercise at all outside school in the previous week.

Health experts said the inactivity was greater than they had expected and was worrisome. Lack of exercise is a likely contributor to the dramatic increases in obesity and type II diabetes among American children.

"This whole sedentary lifestyle is a big cultural problem in our country, and that's what we're up against," CDC health scientist Marian Huhman, the lead author in the study, to be published in Friday's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, said Thursday.

The 9-to-13 age is key because that's the most physically active period of most people's lives, Huhman said. It's also the age when changes in exercise habits probably would do the most good.

Once children hit puberty, "they become physically less active," said Ruth Saunders, a professor of health promotion at the University of South Carolina's School of Public Health in Columbia. "If you start with only a third of them reporting being active in some structured way at age 13 by the time they finish high school who is going to be active?"

The CDC surveyed more than 3,500 families - parents and children - and found that 39 percent of the kids had been involved in organized physical activity outside school in the past week and 77 percent had done some kind of physical activity that "got your body moving" in the past week.

The study found that while boys and girls participated in organized physical activities at the same rate, boys were more likely to be active in their free time. Eleven-year-olds reported the most activity.

Parents said the main obstacles to their children getting more exercise were high costs, transportation problems and parents' lack of time.

The study is intended as the baseline for future studies to determine whether a new CDC ad campaign called VERB, aimed at getting kids to be more active, is working. The CDC has spent $244 million on the effort in the past three years.



For information on the study, check out the report in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report at

For more information on the CDC's physical activity campaign, check out the VERB Web site at:



The margin of error for the study below was plus or minus 2 percentage points for the question on coached physical activity and 1.2 percentage points for the question on free-time physical activity. The survey was conducted between April and June 2002.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

(C) 2003 Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.. All Rights Reserved

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