Washington State Nutrition & Physical Activity Plan
Physical Activity Objective 2

Increase the number of physical activity opportunities available to children

In 2006, only 42% of Washington 10th graders were physically active at the recommended level.

Physical activity is essential for a healthy childhood. Regular physical activity has beneficial effects on weight, muscular strength, cardio-respiratory fitness, bone mass, blood pressure, anxiety and stress, and self-esteem.(1,2)

Families and Individuals

Children are more likely to be active when families are active together and find ways to fit activities into each day. Here are the recommendations for children:

Children and Adolescents

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommend that children and adolescents participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week, preferably daily. Any type of moderate or higher intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, playing tag, jumping rope, or swimming count, as long as it is adds up to at least one hour a day.

Key Points

  • Childhood obesity among ages 2-5 has increased 35% in the past 10 years
  • Fewer than 25% of American children get at least 30 minutes of any type of physical activity every day
  • Children are more likely to be active when their parents serve as role models for physical activity - active parents raise active children.
  • A child who is physically active will have stronger muscles and bones and is less likely to become overweight
  • Children who are physically active perform better in school and have fewer behavior problems

Infants and Toddlers

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education recommends that infants (birth to 12 months old)should interact with parents and/or caregivers in daily physical activities that promote exploration of their environment. Toddlers (12-36 months) should accumulate at least 30 minutes daily of structured physical activity, preschoolers (3-5 years) at least 60 minutes. Toddlers and preschoolers should engage in at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity and should not be sedentary for more than 60 minutes at a time, except when sleeping.

Children will be active when:

  • Schools have comprehensive school physical activity programs.
  • Child care settings promote active play.
  • Youth sports and recreation programs are culturally competent.
  • Play areas and sports facilities are safe and attractive.
  • Neighborhoods have sidewalks and bike paths.
  • Parents are good role models.
  • Parents, teachers and child care staff enforce rules and limits about the use of televisions, video games and other media.
  • Health-care professionals routinely provide "prescriptions" for physical activity. (6,7,8)

Strategies for Success

Cultural Competence

In Seattle, the Austin Foundation transforms lives by providing accessible opportunities for young people to experience the benefits of living a healthy and fit lifestyle.  The foundation serves diverse communities of children, youth and families by going to schools, community centers, alternative schools and detention centers.  The foundation encourages family participation, participates in community events and advocates for community policies and practices that promote healthy lifestyles.  Through its youth internship program, the foundation has a presence at events such as the Umoja Fest, Central Area Festival, Northwest Taskforce Sickle Cell Walk and El Centro de la Raza summer fitness programs, and has addressed the African American Advisory Council to the Chief of Police.


Public Awareness for “Tweens”

The Spokane County Health District was an active participant in the VERB™ It’s what you do campaign. VERB was a national, multicultural, social marketing campaign coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to encourage young people ages 9–13 (tweens) to be physically active every day. Seventy four percent of American “tweens” were aware of the campaign, and the campaign successfully increased physical activity in this age group through paid advertising, marketing strategies, and partnership efforts. In Spokane, local media enhanced the national messages, a water tower was painted with multicultural active tweens, and community wide events provided fun opportunities for tweens to be active.

Resources and Networking for Safer School Travel

This program for elementary schools across Washington State seeks to get more children walking or biking safely to school. The project is a partnership between the Bicycle Alliance and Feet First. Together they have formed the Center for Safe Routes to School in Washington State to provide a central resource for tools and networking for transportation professionals, local law enforcement agencies, planners and designers, families, schools and health professionals.