Health

If More Kids Got Regular Exercise, It Could Save the U.S. Billions

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Kids these days—always glued to a screen, right? It's never a bad idea to go outside and play, since exercise comes with a wide range of benefits for children. The most obvious is health—regular exercise growing up is a great way to avoid adult-onset conditions such as diabetes and heart disease—but the less intuitive impact is economic. In 2017, the Global Obesity Prevention Center conducted a study to estimate the economic impact that might come about if preteens boosted their physical activity levels. The results, by anyone's standards, are staggering.

We're Talking Billions

For the study, the researchers amassed a swath of public data on the health, weight, and activity levels of 31.7 million American children aged 8–11 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and from the National Center for Health Statistics. Next, they plugged it into a special computer model they designed to predict how changes in physical activity could affect the kids and the country throughout their lifetime.

What they found is that currently, 31.9 percent of children participate in physical activity that's considered "high-calorie-burning" for at least 25 minutes three days a week. According to the research, if the percentage of children with that activity level were increased to 50 percent, the percentage of children who are overweight or obese would decrease by 4.18 percent. That may not sound like a lot, but it works out to big things: it means that every year, Americans would save $8.1 billion in medical costs. That's not to mention how much sick leave they'd avoid, which would result in $13.8 billion of productivity that would have otherwise been lost. That's $21.9 billion in savings. The researchers cranked up their computer model even more to see what a dream-world scenario might look like: if 75 percent of kids got 25 minutes of exercise three days out of every week, the savings almost doubled to $40.2 billion.

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25 Minutes Is All You Need

The researchers also predicted what might happen if we did nothing—that is, if the same two-thirds of children kept up with their low-activity lifestyles. They found that 8.1 million of these children would most likely be overweight or obese by the year 2020, and could result in $2.8 trillion in additional healthcare costs and lost wages over their lifetimes.

That's all considering that 25 minutes three times per week is actually much lower than Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations. The CDC advises parents that children should exercise for an hour every day, including some vigorous activity and some muscle- and bone-strengthening activities as well. This research shows that even a small change to a child's daily life can have a big, lasting impact—not only for that child, but for the country as a whole.

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