Today's teens are more fat and less fit than their parents' generation, according to disturbing new research out of the University of Otago.
The first-of-its-kind study, published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal, measured the fitness of 343 15-year-olds whose parents had been tested in the 1980s. Each generation was tested on an exercise cycle.
"We have seen a 25 per cent decline in fitness in girls compared to their mothers and about a 15 per cent decline in fitness compared to their fathers," researcher Helena McAnally told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning, explaining that the findings are unlikely to be unique to New Zealand.
"I think there's been a lot of social change over the years between the Dunedin study in the 80s, when they were 15, and now," she explained. "We're looking at increasing levels of physical inactivity in developed countries across the globe."
The downward trend is a concern, she said.
"Historically, we've been seeing health and wellbeing tracking towards more positive outcomes," she said. "This is looking like this generation is going to be less healthy than their parents' generation.
"Poorer fitness now could potentially lead to long term health problems later."
Professor Bob Hancox, who led the study, said in a statement that the findings fit the perception many of us already had of young people being outside less and tethered to screens more than any generation previously.
But Ms McAnally said today she remains optimistic that the situation could change. As happened with smoking, studies about the health implications could help prompt government initiatives that eventually see healthier outcomes.
She suggested ad campaigns and increased opportunities for people to be active.
"I know in Australia some schools have an afternoon dedicated to physical activity so that people don't have to organise taking their kids to sports outside of school hours," she said. "So there are things like that we could change that would be systematically embedding physical activity in young people's day-to-day routines.
"Investing in the health and wellbeing of our young people now is going to save money in the long term, so I think it's a sensible move."