MONDAY, May 1, 2017 -- Here's another reason to get your kids up and moving: Just a slight increase in American children's physical activity could save tens of billions of dollars in medical costs and lost wages, new research suggests.
"Physical activity not only makes kids feel better and helps them develop healthy habits, it's also good for the nation's bottom line," said study leader Dr. Bruce Lee.
Lee is executive director of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's Global Obesity Prevention Center.
Using federal government data, the researchers created a computer model to determine how changes in physical activity levels among 8- to 11-year-olds could affect them throughout their lifetime. The researchers also evaluated the resulting economic impact.
The investigators said that if all 8- to 11-year-olds did 25 minutes of exercise three times a week, it would prevent $62.3 billion in medical costs and lost wages during their lives. Also, 1.2 million fewer youngsters would be overweight or obese.
Moreover, for every year that children in this age group achieved higher levels of physical activity, an additional $60 billion would be saved, according to the study.
"Our findings show that encouraging exercise and investing in physical activity such as school recess and youth sports leagues when kids are young pays big dividends as they grow up," Lee said.
Obesity is linked to serious health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. The savings in health care spending would more than make up for costs of programs designed to increase activity levels, he said.
"Even modest increases in physical activity could yield billions of dollars in savings," Lee said. These estimates are probably low, he added, noting other benefits of physical activity include improved bone density, improved mood and muscle development.
"As the prevalence of childhood obesity grows, so will the value of increasing physical activity," Lee said.
"We need to be adding physical education programs and not cutting them," he added. "We need to encourage kids to be active, to reduce screen time and get them running around again. It's important for their physical health -- and the nation's financial health."
The study results were published May 1 in the journal Health Affairs.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on children and exercise.
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