December 3, 1995
Web posted at: 11:57 p.m. EST
From Medical Correspondent Al Hinman
CINCINNATI Ohio (CNN) -- Studies show an alarming number of young people are out of shape. To counter the trend, health experts are advising parents to help their kids get in shape.
Researchers studying the relationship between activity and body composition say the effort needs to start early -- as in toddler-age early.
"We found that children who had lower activity levels had a higher percent body fat and a higher weight," said Lizanne Mulligan, a physical therapist who worked on the study.
The same thing could be said of many of these children's parents. It's easy to get out of shape if you don't get enough exercise and eat too much.
What interests the researchers at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital is how crucial it is to get an early start on regular, physical activity.
"At six and nine months of age it didn't seem to have an effect, but by 12 months of age, when most children are starting to walk and move around a lot more, that's when we saw the effect," said Mulligan.
The study found it's not just the toddler work-out that's important, but the work-out space.
"We found also that there was a correlation between the amount of space that the child had to move around in a child care center and their body composition and their activity levels," said Mulligan.
Simply put, give a kid enough room, and he or she will move and play, and, the study suggests, maintain a healthier body weight.
But there are plenty of times when young children need to be still. In light of the study, parents may want to limit the time they keep their kids in car seats, swings or walkers. The study suggests that "excessive" use of such restraining devices can retard motor development.
"It's important to give the child time to move around their space," said Mulligan. "That's how they refine their motor skills."
There may be another , long-term benefit from fit and active children. Researchers are looking at whether increased activity at a young age will help the body develop maximum bone mass before it peaks in the early 20s and if that can help prevent osteoporosis in the elderly.
Health experts suspect there is yet another benefit to keeping toddlers active. They may grow up to be more physically fit and maybe, just maybe, not grow up into adult couch potatoes.
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