The Nation’s Least Active High Schoolers: How To Get Mass. Kids Moving More



Massachusetts tends to do well compared to other states on measures of obesity and activity — but not that well. Particularly our high school students: They score worst in the nation on getting the recommended daily hour of physical activity.

Children’s exercise levels are the topic of discussion today at a Massachusetts Health Policy Forum hosted by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation and The Boston Foundation. It’s titled “Overweight and Obesity in Massachusetts: A Focus on Physical Activity,” and aims to address the need to coordinate state, local and school efforts to increase kids’ activity levels. From the briefing paper released today by the Mass. Health Policy Forum:

Overall, Massachusetts ranks 33rd for the percentage of children who are obese and ranks dead last with the lowest percentage of high school students who meet the recommendation for 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily.

Among Massachusetts high school students:

  • 67% of students were not regularly physically active and fare worse than the national average.
  • Only 17% of students were physically active daily.
  • 82% did not attend physical education classes daily and fare worse than the national average.
  • Over 23% of children reported not being physically active for 60 minutes on any day.
  • 30% of students reported watching television for 3 or more hours per day on school days.

What is to be done? Clearly that’s a topic worth many hours of discussion, but the brief also includes this useful chart of what other states have been doing:

What other states do to increase kids' physical activity

Source: Overweight and Obesity in Massachusetts: A Focus on Physical Activity Costs, Consequences and Opportunities for Change. Paper prepared by: Jennifer Sacheck, PhD and Amy Glynn, MPP/MBA candidate

See the full briefing paper here.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Jean Rossner

    One basic idea:  more emphasis, in schools at least, on physical activity that is not competitive.  As a corollary of sorts:  less (ideally no) shaming of kids who are already overweight, uncoordinated, etc.  At present, there’s a feedback loop whereby kids who are out of shape are picked last for teams, compared to others, teased or verbally abused (often by instructors/coaches as well as fellow students).  Needless to say, this does not encourage participation let alone enthusiasm for activity.  

    In schools and elsewhere, it should be possible to incorporate “Health at Every Size” principles, encourage people to do their best to improve their own capabilities without reference to the abilities of others who may be more fit or just better equipped (naturally coordinated, long-legged, whatever), and adapt the activity as needed to facilitate this. Students can also be helped to discover physical activity that they can enjoy and engage in regularly, whether or not they get “good” at it.