21 September 2016

Illustration depicting International variability in 20m shuttle run performance in children and youth.We've known for a long time that aerobic fitness is a good marker of health in both kids and adults but how do Aussie kids stack up against the rest of the world?

The most commonly used test of aerobic fitness in kids in the 20 m shuttle run test — the "beep test".

Using beep test data on more than 1.1 million children from 50 countries, an international study lead by University of South Australia School of Health Sciences researchers, Dr Grant Tomkinson and Professor Tim Olds, shows Australian kids are not performing well.

Researchers from UniSA’s Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity (ARENA) and the Sansom Institute for Health Research teamed up with researchers from Canada and the US in a huge multi-national study that found Australian kids are also-rans in regards to cardiorespiratory fitness.

“If all the kids in the world were to line up for a race, the average Australian child would finish somewhere in the middle of the pack,” Professor Olds says.

“They'd be a long way behind the fittest children in the world, from Tanzania, Iceland and Estonia, but a long way ahead of the Mexicans, Peruvians, Latvians and Americans.”

The research has been published today in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and Dr Tomkinson says there are big disparities across the world and clusters of countries that either perform well or badly, but Australian kids are just below average, ranked 35th out of 50.

“Cardiorespiratory fitness is an excellent indicator of good health and there’s evidence showing that kids with high fitness levels are healthier and tend to live longer,” Dr Tomkinson says.

“One of our key findings was that income inequality—the gap between rich and poor—was strongly linked to cardiorespiratory fitness, with kids from countries with a small gap between rich and poor having better fitness.” 

Dr Tomkinson is the Chair and Prof Olds is an Executive Committee member of Active Healthy Kids Australia — a collaborative initiative between physical activity researchers from around the nation developing approaches to increase the physical activity levels of all Australian children and young people under the age of 18.

“The second Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Young People produced by Active Healthy Kids Australia is being released in a couple of months and will shed further light on how active our children and young people really are,” Prof Olds says.

"One thing we're focusing on this year is what we call 'physical literacy' — the knowledge, skills and motivation kids have (or don't have) to be physically active in all sorts of different ways — everything from competitive sport to catching waves and riding bicycles.

“We're asking whether Aussie kids have all the tools they need to be active."

On the back of Australia’s recent Olympic performance, Dr Tomkinson says these results also point to the fact that there’s some work to do to support Australia’s next generation of elite athletes looking for future Olympic success.

Media Contacts: Katrina McLachlan office (08) 8302 0961 email katrina.mclachlan@unisa.edu.au mobile 0414972537

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