Outside of dread diseases, the question of mortality is rarely raised in childhood. But perhaps it should be. According to a new study, for the first time in the history in the developed world, this generation of children is expected to die five years earlier than their parents. The reason? Inactivity.
Recent research conducted by Nike and made public at Designedtomove.org found that in just two generations, the rate of active play, physical education, and overall physical activity has dropped by 20% in the U.K., 32% in the U.S., and 45% in China. This year, says the report, 5.3 million deaths will be attributed to physical inactivity while smoking, long considered a leading killer, is responsible for 5 million deaths a year.
The thorough report, Designed to Move: A Physical Activity Action Agenda, was released last week at the 8th Annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting and outlines the risk factors and the economic costs of childhood inactivity, and provides a framework for combating the problem. It suggests that governments have a significant ability to affect change through innovations in urban planning, and positions physical activity–which is linked to higher test scores in school and greater professional success–as a competitive advantage. More basically, though, the Designed To Move initiative is based on two tasks: create early positive experiences for children, and integrate physical activity into everyday life.
This message is conveyed in “5 Extra Years”, a spot from Wieden + Kennedy Portland and director Lance Bangs, that asks children under the age of 10 what they’d do if they had five extra years to live. The kids’ testimonials are set against scenes of abandoned play spaces. Answers range from the impressively ambitious (like wanting to invent time machines or explore dark matter) to the charmingly unusual (like having more hamsters or convincing a sister not to hate tuna), until one kid asks, quite rightly, why they’re being asked the question. For many kids, an inactive lifestyle has become the norm. Between ages 9 and 15, American and European kids’ activity levels drop by 50-75 percent, yet focusing on getting kids more active before the age of 10 could change the trajectory for the next generation.
The challenge, of course, is that as adults we’ve largely become more sedentary due to the nature of work and ease of mobility. By framing the problem as something that affects the life expectancy of a child, the impact of Designed to Move’s message carries more weight, so to speak, and clearly places the onus of change on the grown-ups. Never has the importance of play been put in plainer terms.