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Can American children claim the label of 'The Slowest Generation'?

Craig Medred
Get kids moving early on to avoid obesity and heart disease later in life. Courtesy Ground Truth Trekking

If the Americans who lived through the 1940s have come to be known as "The Greatest Generation," are the unfortunate of children of today destined to be saddled with the label of "The Slowest Generation?"

Or maybe "The Sedentary Generation?"

There is deeply troubling news on this front out of the American Heart Association conference this week that kids who've long been getting fatter are also getting slower. Researchers are reporting the average kid today takes a whopping 90 seconds longer to run a mile than a kid of the same age 30 years ago, according to a summary of the research by Voice of America.

Translate 90 seconds a mile into the time for your local 5-kilometer fun run and the kids of today are a staggering 4 minutes and 30 seconds behind the times of their parents.

Serious Alaska runners probably noticed long ago that the fields for most local road races seemed in general to be slowing down, but the latest news is still startling, given that run times are a good gauge of general fitness.

Decline of 5% per decade 

The Heart Association study underlines that in noting that heart-related fitness appears to have declined about 5 percent per decade since 1975 among those ages 9 to 17.

At that rate, it won't be long before everyone under 30 needs a motorized cart to drive around Walmart while shopping for their Cheetos and beer. The Heart Association says the problem is global, but it is a little hard to believe it can be as bad in countries where kids still get some regular, daily exercise by walking or riding bikes.

Most of America is not like those countries. Look around Anchorage. How many kids do you see walking or riding a bike to school these days? Not many. What parent would let their kid do something so dangerous? Much of Anchorage isn't designed for people; it's designed for cars.

Efforts to change this over the years have run into nothing but opposition. Motorists don't want to see people on foot or on bicycles.

The more of those people there are, the more likely one is to pop up near a roadway, and that means motorists need to pay attention instead of texting or eating or putting on their makeup during the commute to work.

That a lot of these motorists are themselves overweight contributors to what has become one of the country's biggest health problems -- obesity -- is one thing. That they are dragging the next generation down with them is another.

Heart conditions deteriorating, too

Doctors involved with the now 65-year-old Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts years ago joked that maybe it was time to just put heart medications in the water supply of that community because of what the sedentary lifestyle was doing to Framingham residents.

That wouldn't appear to be a laughing matter anymore. If the cardiac fitness of young Americans is deteriorating at the rate the Heart Association contends, maybe this is a good idea to keep "The Fat, Slow Generation" from becoming the "The Fat, Slow, Unhealthy Generation."

The good news is that there are things parents can do on an individual level to fight back. Kids are slower and fatter these days because they don't get enough exercise. Get them moving.

There are plenty of opportunities in Anchorage. There are active youth hockey leagues. The Junior Nordic Ski program is not only flourishing, the kids who attend seem to have a lot of fun while getting a good dose of exercise. And there are a variety of so-called "bike paths" through the cities greenbelts where, if nothing else, no matter how poor one might be, you can take the kids for a walk.

We do it for our dogs to keep them happy and healthy. Shouldn't we at least show as much consideration for our children?

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com