From magazine covers to reality TV to body-negative chatter on the Internet, we’re surrounded my messages that it’s good—paramount, perhaps—to look fit. But someone can look physically healthy and not be—even in childhood, as important new research shows.
In a study led by Mount Sinai Hospital researchers in New York City and funded by the U.S. Department of Health, 1.5 million teens were given physical fitness assessments, and then tracked as adults—up to age 62. Turns out that young people with poor aerobic fitness and low muscle strength had triple the risk of diabetes later in life, regardless of their body mass index (BMI). Kids who were active, but heavier, were still protected against diabetes—likely due, researchers say, to the way that physical activity helps regulate the hormone insulin. Insulin sensitivity is the main factor in the development of diabetes. In 2012, 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3% of the population, had diabetes—a number that’s rising at an “alarming” pace, according to CDC officials.
These findings bring home two important messages that are crucial to pass on to our kids. One, that “thin”—no matter how good it looks poolside or on the cover of US Weekly—can still be unhealthy. And, two: that being active might be the most important thing you can do for your health.
We’ve shared lots of ideas for keeping kids moving on this site, including teaching them silly, old-school neighborhood games, giving them access to great outdoor toys, and playing fun games en famile, from the driveway to the beach. For older kids, organized sports are obviously a terrific way to combine physical activity with a social outlet. But as we’ve noted before, kids who aren’t into the team thing can get the same physical and emotional benefits by participating in lower-stakes recreational games and less mainstream physical activities, like yoga or a running club.
The key: Teaching kids from very early on that physical activity is not only fun but helps you feel good—and most important, modeling that message ourselves. If you’re inclined to stick the scale in a back closet—and perhaps pull out the jump rope or hand weights you stashed in there sometime during the Bush administration—we’d be supportive of that too.