Fit Kids? Team, Co-Led By UND Kinesiologist Grant Tomkinson, Gives American Children Low Marks On Global Fitness-Level Report Card

“If all the kids in the world were to line up for a race, the average American child would finish at the foot of the field,” said Grant Tomkinson, associate professor of kinesiology in the UND College of Education & Human Development and senior author of the study.
“If all the kids in the world were to line up for a race, the average American child would finish at the foot of the field,” said Grant Tomkinson, associate professor of kinesiology in the UND College of Education & Human Development and senior author of the study.

An international research team co-led from the University of North Dakota and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) studied the aerobic fitness levels of children and youth across 50 countries. The results were just published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

“If all the kids in the world were to line up for a race, the average American child would finish at the foot of the field,” said Grant Tomkinson, associate professor of kinesiology in the UND College of Education & Human Development and senior author of the study.  “Canada, on the other hand, fared moderately well placing just above middle of the pack. This study is the largest of its kind so it’s exciting to have this evidence at hand.”

“Kids who are aerobically fit tend to be healthy; and kids who are healthy are apt to be healthy adults. So studying aerobic fitness in the early years is very insightful to overall population health,” said Justin Lang, the report’s lead author. He’s at CHEO and a Ph.D. student at the University of Ottawa. “It’s important to know how kids in Canada or America fare on the world stage, for example, because we can always learn from other countries with fitter kids.”

The study involved analyzing 20-meter shuttle data, also called the beep test, from 1.1 million kids aged 9 to 17 years old from 50 countries. The beep test is the most popular field based test of aerobic fitness levels of children and youth. It is also standardized and commonly used around the world.

Another key finding of this study is that income inequality – the gap between rich and poor as measured by the Gini Index – is strongly correlated with aerobic fitness. Children and youth from countries with a small gap between rich and poor appear to have better fitness.

Study collaborators include co-authors from University of Montreal and University of South Australia.

Ranking highlights:

  • Top 5 fittest countries: Tanzania, Iceland, Estonia, Norway, Japan
  • Canada placed 19 out of 50
  • America placed 47 out of 50

Contacts:

Juan Miguel Pedraza
University of North Dakota
juan.pedraza@UND.edu
701.620.1928

Grant Tomkinson, associate professor
UND College of Education & Human Development
grant.tomkinson@UND.edu
701.777.4041

Adrienne Vienneau
CHEO Research Institute
avienneau@cheo.on.ca
Direct 613-737-7600 x4144