Children’s Fitness Dips But Is Critical in Warming World

Three children in playground

As global temperatures rise, children are less equipped to handle hot weather than ever before. A new study finds kids today are 30% less aerobically fit than their parents, leaving the generation even more vulnerable to extreme heat and poor air quality. Though today’s children aren’t considered “extremely unfit” according to the study’s classifications, they are less inclined to want to move their bodies. Other contributing factors beyond high temperatures include the COVID-19 pandemic and increased popularity of indoor leisure activities, cites study author Shawnda Morrison in TIME.

Why This Matters

Scientists have called climate change and extreme weather events a “code red for a healthy future.”As wildfires, hurricanes, and extreme heat intensify, so do outcomes like food insecurity and poor health. Pregnant women and children are among the most vulnerable. According to a UNICEF report, approximately half of the world’s 2.2 billion kids are already at an “extremely high risk” of experiencing climate change impacts. While aerobic fitness may not change emissions levels, it can serve as an important long-term defense mechanism for people, reducing the risks of heat stroke and chronic disease.

Beating The Heat

Cities across the US are feeling the dangerous impacts of extreme heat this summer. Amid the Western megadrought, sunbelt cities like Phoenix and San Antonio have struggled to defend their water supply during days of triple-digit temperatures. In more humid areas, moisture in the air is leading to “wet-bulb temperatures,” inhibiting the body’s ability to cool itself with perspiration.

Morrison advises that in a warming world, parents should make sure their children’s bodies are acclimating to the heat. Access to green space, time, and money are often limiting factors to childhood fitness. But when possible, even just spending time outdoors in the cooler hours of the morning or evening will help kids adjust.

“I know it’s hard for parents, but you really do have to make time to do this, especially with younger children,” Morrison emphasizes. “It really has to be built into your day as a priority.”