Study: U.S. Kids Walk Less, Weigh More

Monday, August 25th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Is Mom's taxi bad for kids' health?

A study indicates American youngsters walk less than those in other countries. Researchers say this helps explain why a greater proportion of American kids are overweight. And other experts say kids would walk more if parents didn't have to shuttle them around so much.

The researchers gave pedometers to 1,954 children, ages 6-12, in the United States, Sweden and Australia. The number of steps shown on the pedometer was compared with the child's body-mass index _ an estimate of body fat based on height and weight.

``In general, the Swedish children were significantly more active than the Australian and American children, and the American children were significantly heavier than the Australian and Swedish children,'' the study said.

The average number of steps all the children took during the two days they wore pedometers varied by age and sex. Ten-year-olds, for instance, generally walked more than 6-year-olds. Boys generally walked more than girls.

The pedometers showed Americans walked less than their Swedish or Australian counterparts. Swedish boys, for instance, took as many as 18,346 steps a day, Australians took 15,023 and Americans took 13,872.

Americans led in weight.

``I guess I don't like the term `fat,' but call a spade a spade,'' said Susan Vincent, assistant professor of physical education at Brigham Young University. She was the lead author of the paper in the August issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.

The researchers point to cultural differences among the countries studied. For example, the study said, Swedish walking paths made it easy for kids to travel on foot.

In America, going places by foot _ or just going outside to play _ has been getting less common, said Jacqueline Epping, a public health educator at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who was not connected to the study.

``You can't walk to the store,'' Epping said. ``If someone lives in a subdivision next to yours, and you live on a cul-de-sac, you can't get there.''

America needs to turn that trend around, because kids who depend on Mom's taxi to take them everywhere are missing chances for healthful physical activity, said Russell Pate, associate dean for research at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina.

``We are now seeing the cumulative effect of multiple changes in our culture, and the increasing dependence on motorized transport is one important element,'' said Pate, who was not part of the study.

But Pate said this may not be the kids' fault, or even their parents'. Suburban distances can be too great and roads too dangerous to let kids walk or bike, he said.

The CDC is trying to change this, encouraging communities to make roads safe for kids to bike or walk to school and encouraging kids to use them.

The Walking School Bus is one such program. Designated adults pick up each child at the child's door at a specific time on a walking route to or from school. All the kids walk together, getting time to talk with each other as well as some physical activity.

Some communities also are putting more money into sidewalk repair, crosswalks and speed bumps, Epping said.

The effort has some distance to go, however. The CDC says 85 percent of children's trips to school are by car or school bus, and only 13 percent are on foot or by bike.