Friday, September 23, 2016

Canadian kids fitter than Americans, but nowhere near as fit as Tanzanians

A global study of the aerobic fitness of international kids using the “beep” test (a global standardized evaluation of children’s general fitness levels), suggests that African and Scandinavian kids are the fittest, while Latino kids are the laggards. Canadian kids come, in our usual Canadian manner, somewhere in the middle of the pack.
Over a million children between the ages of 9 and 17 from 50 different countries were tested in the study. The results show Tanzanian kids way out in front, followed by Iceland, Estonia, Norway and (perhaps surprisingly) Japan. At the bottom of the list of the 50 countries tested are Mexico, Peru, Latvia (yes, a Scandinavian country - go figure!) and USA. Canada ranked 19th, just ahead of the UK.
The study was carried out by Justin Lang, a PhD student at the University of Ottawa, and a researcher at the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (HALO) at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), in association with the University of North Dakota. It was recently published, for some reason, in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, but its general findings and selected results have been widely covered by the Canadian press, usually with the angle, "why did Canadians kids do so badly?"
Interesting though all this is, I'm not convinced that we can draw too many firm conclusions from the study, and I'm not sure we need to completely revise our education system based on the findings. The only demographic correlation the study's authors managed to come up with was that countries where the gap between rich and poor is narrow tend to have fitter children, and fitness levels tend to fall as the income disparity widens, although they could hazard no guesses at why that might be the case. I would have thought comparisons with diets, educational systems, air quality, etc, might be more interesting and potentially fruitful avenues.
No source I have read, not even the original study abstract, gives the full results, and I would be interested to see which 50 countries were tested. For example, was Tanzania the only African country in the study, or were they regional outliers? Likewise with Japan and Asia. I guess the full text of the abstract is available for a price, but my interest does not run quite that deep, I'm afraid.

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