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Overweight and Physical Activity Among Children:  A Portrait of States and the Nation, 2005
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Children's Physical Activity

Parents were asked to report how many days in the week before the survey their children participated in physical activity that lasted at least 20 minutes and caused sweating and hard breathing. Overall, 71.3 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds were reported to exercise 3 or more days per week. Males in this age group are more likely to exercise than their female counterparts (76.8 versus 65.6 percent).

Physical activity decreases with increased age: 78.2 percent of 10- to 11-year-olds were reported by parents to exercise 3 or more days per week, compared with 74.2 percent of 12- to 14-year-olds and 63.3 percent of 15- to -17-year-olds.

Participation in physical activity on 3 or more days per week increases with family income. Children with family incomes below the Federal poverty level (FPL) are least likely to exercise regularly (65.6 percent) according to parent reporting, compared to 70.2 percent of children with family incomes between 100 and 199 percent of FPL, 72.3 percent of children with family incomes between 200 and 399 percent of FPL, and 75.0 percent of children with family incomes of 400 percent of FPL or more.

Race and ethnicity also appear to be related to participation in physical activity among 10- to 17- year-olds. White and multiracial children had approximately equal rates of regular physical activity (73.5 and 73.8 percent, respectively) according to parent reporting. Hispanic children were least likely to exercise 3 or more days per week (62.9 percent), followed by Black children (69.1 percent); children of other racial and ethnic origins were most likely to regularly exercise (76.1 percent).

Overall, children aged 10 to 17 years participate in physical activity that lasts at least 20 minutes and causes sweating and hard breathing for an average of 3.9 days per week, as reported by parents. As with the previous measure of physical activity, males exercise a greater mean number of days than females, and younger children exercise a greater mean number of days than older children. The average for males is 4.3 days per week, compared to 3.5 days for females. Children aged 10 to 11 years average 4.4 days, while 12- to 14- year-olds average 4.1 days and 15- to 17-year-olds average 3.5 days per week.

According to parents, over half (58.6 percent) of 10- to 17-year-olds participate in sports teams or take sports lessons. Males are more likely than females to participate in sports (62.1 versus 55.0 percent). Children aged 10 to 11 years and 12 to 14 years have almost equal rates of participation in sports (61.5 and 61.6 percent, respectively), while those aged 15 to 17 years are less likely to participate (53.4 percent).

Participation in sports also varies by type of school attended. Of children in private schools, 74.2 percent participate. The rate of participation among public school children is 57.5 percent, and home-schooled children are least likely to participate with a rate of 45.0 percent.

Physical activity and participation in sports appear to be related to overweight in children aged 10 to 17 years. Children who are physically active 3 or more days per week are less likely to be overweight than those who are not, 13.8 and 17.1 percent, respectively.

Of children who participate on a sports team or take sports lessons, 12.6 percent are overweight, compared to 18.1 percent of children who do not participate in sports.

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This chartbook is based on data from the National Survey of Children's Health. Suggested citation: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau. The National Survey of Children's Health 2003. Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2005.