Promoting Physical Activity in Children: The role of a Pediatrician

Almost everyone, especially medical professionals, would agree that getting regular exercise is good for your health. Many studies have shown that regular exercise decreases the risk of cancer, heart disease, and premature death in general. In children, increased physical activity has been linked to better performance in school. Despite the clear benefits of physical activity on health and other outcomes, few patients report receiving physical activity counseling from their primary care physician. As physicians and leaders in the community, pediatricians should provide appropriate physical activity counseling to their patients, as well support efforts to better assess and address obstacles to regular physical activity in the pediatric population.

The Goal:

  • CDC recommendations: 60 minutes a day or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity for children aged 6 to 17 years
  • Examples of moderate activity: brisk walking, light biking, gardening
  • Examples of vigorous activity: Jogging, basketball, hiking

The Problem:

  • Only 22% of children are meeting US physical activity guidelines
  • 63% of children exceeded sedentary behavior guidelines (<2 hours of screen time per day)
  • Only 12% of pediatricians reported regularly counseling patients on physical activity

The Solution?

  • Evidence shows that the healthcare setting is a unique opportunity to provide physical activity counseling and referral to other community resources
  • Groups such as Exercise Is Medicine recommend a 3-pronged approach in the clinic setting
    • Assess physical activity levels of each patient at every clinic visit.
    • Provide patients with an exercise “prescription” that is appropriate to their age and health
    • Refer patients to local physical activity programs led by qualified individuals
  • Pediatricians can support efforts to further validate and develop similar strategies in the pediatric setting
  • Exercise! Studies show that physicians who exercise regularly are more likely to recommend exercise to their patients. In doing so, pediatricians can both model healthy behaviors to their patients and families while reaping the benefits to their own health.


Daniel Chen, MD




Personal exercise habits and counseling practices of primary care physicians: a national survey. Clin J Sport Med


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