There has been much focus in recent years surrounding the physical fitness of young people, particularly as the rate of obesity has been increasing. Now, a new study has detailed a list of priorities for research into the benefits of physical activity in young people.

Two independent panels of international researchers who participated in the study say their recommendations, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, could “improve evidence-based policy regarding physical activity for children.”

Previous research has shown that regular physical activity in young people may have a significant impact on their health later in life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular physical activity in young people can reduce the risk of developing obesity and chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer.

Current guidelines from the US Department of Health and Human Services recommend that young people aged 6 to 17 should participate in a minimum of 1 hour of physical activity each day. However, a 2011 questionnaire from the CDC found that only 29% of high school students surveyed achieved this.

The researchers say that encouragement for youths to participate in physical activity is often “pursued in a reactive and uncoordinated manner.” Therefore, they set out to identify areas where research is needed, in order to provide guidance for progression.

The two panels, each made up of 12 international experts, were asked to provide anonymous feedback disclosing what they believed to be the important research issues regarding physical activity and sedentary behavior in children and adolescents for the next 10 years.

Their answers were then reviewed before being ranked in order of international importance.

The feedback was narrowed down to 29 international research priorities in child and adolescent physical activity and sedentary behavior. The top three priorities were:

  • Developing effective and sustainable interventions to increase children’s physical activity long-term
  • Policy and/or environmental change and their influence on children’s physical activity and sedentary behavior, and
  • Prospective, longitudinal studies of the independent effects of physical activity and sedentary behavior on health from birth to middle age.

The panel says these priorities, if followed, may lead to better quality research that could lead to changes in policy regarding physical activity in children:

We hope that the identification of a set of ranked research priorities may contribute to more coordinated international research. For example, research priorities can help inform postgraduate students regarding where the current evidence gaps exist.

This may be especially helpful for researchers who reside in less developed or marginalized research regions. In addition, encouraging more guided research can help to conceptualize how findings can be used as a basis for policy decisions.”

The panel adds that research priorities can also help direct valuable funding into “priority areas,” moving away from studies on “over-researched” or lower priority topics.

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that exercise can boost teenagers’ academic performance.