There are dangerous issues now percolating on the American health care scene. They can be correctly labeled as healthcare crisis ‘time bombs.’ Unless there’s action done now to change the status quo in the U.S., it will blindside America’s already escalating healthcare system and costs…..and deliver a crippling blow to the infrastructure of the health care industry in the U.S.
What is the problem? Recent research uncovered by PHIT America -- a national charity dedicated to a more active, fit and healthy America -- indicates there are two significant segments of the U.S. population which are becoming dangerously inactive and reducing their commitment to physical activity and good health.
America’s Youth – The First Big Issue. The percentage of children who are ‘active to healthy standards,’ three times a week or more, in any of more than 100 sports or activities, is declining rapidly. The number of physically active children is declining -- from almost 29 percent in 2011 down to 24.8 percent in 2016. And, the drop in physical activity was the largest drop ever in one year. Combine that with children who are physically active one time a week or more, it’s clear that this trend is impacting kids across the U.S.
“These two trends in children’s physical activity levels are very dangerous,” says Dr. Liz Joy, Adjunct Professor, Family & Preventive Medicine, University of Utah School of Medicine (and a member of Doctors for a PHIT America). “These kids are becoming so unhealthy and, when they grow up, will be so much more susceptible to disease, illness, injuries, and many other things that can be overcome with physical activity being an important part of your life.”
“Children are the future of America and are at the center of our healthcare crisis. Sadly, more and more children are physically inactive,” says Dr. Jordan Metzl, Sports Medicine Doctor/Author/Marathoner, New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery (and a member of Doctors for a PHIT America). “As a doctor, this is not only an issue for their present health, it signals that health issues will increase as they get older, meaning more negative healthcare issues in general.”
Low Income Americans – The Second Bomb. Low-income Americans are already more prone to heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and many other illnesses*. The income divide is also showing up in physical activity. Overall, low-income families are dramatically less active than high-income families. The big divide is household income – specifically those families which make less than $50,000/year vs. families whose household incomes are more than $50,000/year. Believe it or not, but there are 114 million Americans who come from households making less than $50,000 a year. Those 114 million people are becoming more and more physically inactive. In 2012, 32.6 percent of Americans from the lower-income bracket were physically inactive. In 2016, that percentage of physically inactive people from the lower-income bracket grew to 36.7 percent. On the other hand, the physical activity patterns of the 126 million people from households whose income was more than $75,000/year are trending in a better direction. In 2012, 22 percent of the more affluent part of society was physically inactive and by 2016, that percentage of physically inactive people had dropped to 19.2 percent.
“This income divide and its connection to physical inactivity trends has to be stopped,” continues Dr. Joy. “Low-income people don’t have the financial resources for good healthcare. Then, when you see how physically inactive they have become, this is an issue we have to fix. The children in these low-income families are my biggest concern. They will grow up with physical ailments and medical issues which we have not seen before in the U.S. We have to get these children moving and physically active. And, we can.”
The Solutions To These Two Time Bombs. “The PHIT America staff has been studying this problem for years and, without question, we have two solutions,” says Jim Baugh, Founder of PHIT America. “First, we have to have much more prevention in our healthcare system. We really have more of a ‘sick care’ system than healthcare. People and companies are constantly coming up with new pills, drugs, surgeries and health treatment plans to treat sick people. This is really ‘sick care’. To have true healthcare, we need to prevent and reduce healthcare issues and costs.”
“The second solution is to get more Americans, especially our children, more physically active and moving for better health. This will prevent and reduce healthcare costs,” continues Baugh. “How do we do this? We have to go to the ‘roots’ of physical activity and the first place that we can influence their behavior is in our schools. That starts with restoring and increasing physical education programs in America.”
Children used to learn the basics of physical activity, movement, and health in school, but now 48% of all high schools have no physical education. And, sadly, the average budget for physical education in elementary schools is only $460 per year for the entire school. Students who don’t have P.E. are two-to-three times more likely to be sedentary outside of school. The ‘Sit-and-Learn’ approach to education is failing our students, especially for both their health and academic achievement.
PHIT America and one of its key partners, ActivEd, have uncovered numerous studies that link physical activity and fitness to academic performance.
“There is no question about it, active kids are better students,” says Julian Reed, Professor of Health Sciences at Furman University and one of the Founders of ActivEd. “We have definitive research showing getting children who are physically active in school will improve their health and will help them academically, as well, which is a big bonus. Active kids get better grades.”
“One of the most important things we can do for the health development of our children is to assure they are getting the required amount of physical activity,” notes Tim Church, Ph.D., Professor at Pennington Biomedical, Louisiana State University (and a member of Doctors for a PHIT America). “Whether it is brain health, bone health or the prevention of diabetes, regular physical activity is powerful medicine in children.”
“I see it in our students when I visit communities and schools,” says James O. Hill, Ph.D, Professor, Departments of Pediatrics & Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine (and a member of Doctors for a PHIT America). “More and more students are not getting physical education or any type of physical activity in school and then, when they get home, they are more sedentary because they have no desire to be physically active. Many kids can’t throw, catch, skip, run or jump. These kids are a healthcare time bomb. We have to arrest this issue.”
A new study in a recent edition of Health Affairs clearly indicates that increasing physical activity among children will generate a major savings in U.S. health care costs as well as a necessary public health intervention.
“We know the issues and we have the solutions,” says Baugh. “That is why we have helped almost 300 schools with 120,000 kids with our PHIT America GO! Grants. These grants are rebuilding physical activity in schools and with kids. We are just starting, but we know we are doing what is right for these kids, their health, their academic improvement, healthcare in general, and our country.”
“Another thing we can do to promote physical activity is to help pass the PHIT Act, which will allow Americans to use their pre-tax medical accounts to pay for physical activity expenses,” continues Baugh. “However, everyone needs to focus on promoting the roots of physical activity in America, which is P.E. in our schools for all students in all grades. Without that focus, the healthcare crisis will continue. Educating Americans about the value of physical activity with a focus on P.E. in our schools for our students will turn around the inactivity crisis in America.”
Founded in January 2013, PHIT America is a non-profit campaign focused on overcoming the severe ramifications of the ‘Inactivity Pandemic’ through three strategic approaches – education, supporting school-based activity programs, and advocating – which will get Americans, especially our youth, more active, fit and healthy. Companies or individuals interested in helping PHIT America fight the ‘Inactivity Pandemic’ should contact PHIT America at Alliance@PHITAmerica.org.