WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - America's kids are even more deeply rooted couch potatoes than experts initially thought.
Roughly 3 out of 5 kids ages 9 to 13 say they don't participate in sports or other coached physical activities outside school, according to a first-of-its-kind nationwide survey of children and their parents to be released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
About 1 in 4 kids in that age group had gotten no exercise outside school in the previous week.
Health experts said the inactivity was greater than they had expected and was worrisome. Lack of exercise is considered a likely contributor to the dramatic increases in obesity and type II diabetes among American children.
"This whole sedentary lifestyle is a big cultural problem in our country, and that's what we're up against," said CDC health scientist Marian Huhman, lead author in the study to be published in today's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The 9-to-13 age is key because it is the most physically active period of most people's lives, Huhman said. It is also the age when changes in exercise habits probably would do the most good.
Once children hit puberty, "they become physically less active," said Ruth Saunders, a professor of health promotion at the University of South Carolina's School of Public Health, in Columbia. "If you start with only a third of them reporting being active in some structured way at age 13, by the time they finish high school who is going to be active?"
The CDC surveyed more than 3,500 families - parents and children - and found that 39 percent of the children had been involved in organized physical activity outside school in the past week and 77 percent had done some kind of physical activity that "got your body moving" in the past week.
The study found that while boys and girls participated in organized physical activities at the same rate, boys were more likely to be active in their free time. Eleven-year-olds reported the most activity.
Parents said the main obstacles to their children getting more exercise were high costs, transportation problems and parents' lack of time.
The study is intended as the baseline for future studies to determine whether a new CDC ad campaign called VERB, aimed at getting children to be more active, is working. The CDC has spent $244 million on the effort in the past three years.