Despite America’s international reputation of being super competitive in activities ranging from the Olympics to little league, a new study of 1.1 million children around the world found that kids from the U.S. ranked 47th out of 50 countries with regard to physical fitness. The study tested aerobic health, a marker widely accepted as a helpful indicator of long-term health and likelihood of premature death, by having kids ages 9-17 complete a “beep test.” The test is basically a timed version of a shuttle run (a.k.a. wind sprints or suicides). Kids have to run between two lines in time to recorded beeps. The time between beeps gets shorter, meaning kids have to pick up their speed to go the same distance in less time. When they can’t make it from one line to the next before the beep, the test is over. Kids from countries in Africa and Central Northern Europe such as Tanzania, Iceland, and Estonia were the leaders in this test, while the U.S. dragged in the back with Mexico, Peru, and Latvia. Interestingly and disturbingly, the greatest indicator of a country’s aerobic fitness ranking is wealth inequality. The countries with the largest income gaps tended to have lower levels of aerobic fitness. Poverty has been linked to a variety of undesirable outcomes, including various health issues and woes such as pediatric growth impairment and lower life expectancy. As mounting research supports evidence of wellness that encompasses mind and body, getting kids in the U.S. to be aerobically active consistently is an important effort, and one that needs to take place at home, at school, and while kids are at play.
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