Low-income Americans are less likely to be physically active than Americans at other income levels, while children are generally less active with each passing year, according to data collected by the Physical Activity Council. These two groups are the country's two biggest healthcare "time bombs," according to the latest report by PHIT America, Silver Springs, Maryland.
"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.," the report states.
The percentage of children who are active three times a week or more has dropped steadily since 2011, when it was at 28.7 percent. In 2016, only 24.8 percent of children met healthy activity guidelines, according to the report, which marks the single-largest year-to-year drop since the data was recorded.
“These two trends in children’s physical activity levels are very dangerous,” Dr. Liz Joy, adjunct professor of Family & Preventive Medicine, University of Utah School of Medicine, said in the report. “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.”
The report is critical of a "sit-and-learn" approach to education, noting that only 48 percent of high schools offer physical education programs.
As of 2012, 32.6 percent of households earning less than $50,000 annually were physically inactive. In 2016, that percentage grew to 36.7 percent, while those households earning at least $75,000 are becoming more active.
Low-income Americans are generally more prone to heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes, according to the report.
“Low-income people don’t have the financial resources for good healthcare," Joy said. "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."
In conclusion, the report first suggests moving away from the country's current "sick-care" system—reactively creating and prescribing drugs—to a genuinely preventive healthcare system. Second, it encourages schools and parents to consistently instill children with the benefits of physical activity at an early age.
“I see it in our students when I visit communities and schools,” James O. Hill, professor at the Departments of Pediatrics & Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, said in the report. “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.”
The report also suggests the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act could be another solution. The bill was re-introduced to both the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R.1267) and the U.S. Senate (S.482) in March. If passed, it would allow consumers to use pre-tax medical accounts to mitigate fitness-related expenses such as health club memberships and equipment purchases.