WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- If American children were to race children from other countries, chances are, they'd lose. Badly.
A review of children's fitness levels in 50 countries around the world suggests the youth of America are not nearly as healthy as they could be, according to researchers at Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario and the University of North Dakota.
The United States landed 47th out of 50 nations when comparing fitness results among the world's children, with Canada coming in 19th -- a far better result than their neighbors to the south -- based on data in the study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Researchers found income inequality was a strong indicator for average physical fitness among children in the 50 countries, with a larger gap between rich and poor being linked to a nation's children being less physically fit.
"If all the kids in the world were to line up for a race, the average American child would finish at the foot of the field," Dr. Grant Tomkinson, an associate professor at the University of North Dakota, said in a press release. "Canada, on the other hand, fared moderately well placing just above middle of the pack. This study is the largest of its kind so it's exciting to have this evidence at hand."
For the study, researchers used results from 20-meter shuttle races, often referred to as the beep test, collected from 1.14 million children between the ages of 9 and 17 in 50 countries around the world.
The top five countries for youth physical fitness, according to the data, are Tanzania, Iceland, Estonia, Norway and Japan, and the least fit was Mexico. Using the Gini Index, a measure of statistical distribution of income across a country, nations with the smallest gap between rich and poor also tended to have more physically fit children, the researchers report.
"Kids who are aerobically fit tend to be healthy, and healthy kids are apt to be healthy adults. So studying aerobic fitness in the early years is very insightful to overall population health," said Justin Lang, a doctoral student at the University of Ottawa and leader of the study's research group. "It's important to know how kids in Canada or America fare on the world stage, for example, because we can always learn from other countries with fitter kids."