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Active kids more likely to outperform their sedentary peers at school and in earnings, says report

On average, men who exercised less during childhood annually earned 5,000 euros less than their peers who were more active as children, according to a fresh report.

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Image: Mikko Ahmajärvi / Yle

Inactivity among Finns is costing society billions of euros, claims a report by the sports and physical activity research institute, UKK.

According to an new UKK report, low levels of physical activity, long sedentary periods and low fitness levels all cost society over three billion euros every year.

The research is the first to extensively probe and quantify the financial impact of sedentary habits on public finances.

According to UKK director Tommi Vasankari, it was not possible to include all of the possible costs of inactivity, due to redundancies in various databases and registries.

“In spite of that, the costs easily ran into the billions. In view of this price tag, this issue is discussed surprisingly seldom in Finland,” Vasankari noted.

The institute’s calculations take account of factors such as social and health care spending, loss of income data, paid unemployment benefits and the costs of marginalisation.

More money for individuals and public purse

The report draws a direct connection between children’s extra-curricular activity and their likelihood of employment as adults.

On average, adults who were less active as children experience longer periods of unemployment every year than kids who exercised assiduously. The employment gap was evident in the statistics covering both men and women.

As far as women are concerned, adults who were more sedentary as children experienced nine more days of unemployment every year than their more physically active peers. In terms of men, the difference increased to 15 days of unemployment per year for less active children.

When researchers factored in background data such as health, family income level and parents’ education levels, the negative impact of inactivity is still statistically significant.

“The issue of how much physical activity we engage in as children has an astonishingly strong connection with how we find our place in the world of work and how much we earn as well as how much income tax we pay. The more a child exercises, the less likely it is that he or she will receive unemployment support,” Vasankari declared.

On average, 35-year-old adults who were largely inactive as children contributed roughly 2,800 euros less in income taxes annually to the public purse than their sporty peers, while they received some 800 euros more in unemployment benefits every year.

For men in particular, there is a strong positive correlation between physical activity in childhood and earnings as an adult. Men who preferred to sit out sporting activities as kids earn on average 5,000 euros less than those who opted for regular bouts of physical exertion.

More exercise, more years of tuition

Researchers also found a strong correlation between sporting pursuits and the length of tuition as well as the likelihood of children attaining tertiary education as adults.

For boys in particular, physical exercise was found to increase the likelihood that they would at least acquire a first degree.

However, the probability that exercise during childhood would lead to post-graduate degrees was only statistically significant where girls are concerned.

On average, research participants who exercised a lot during childhood benefited from six months to a year of additional education as adults, compared to less active children.

This positive correlation between exercise and post-primary education was statistically significant for both sexes even when background factors such were taken into consideration.

According to UKK, some five to 10 percent of youth marginalisation could be prevented by increasing young people’s exposure to sporting activities. It could also save civil society between 70 and 140 million euros, the think tank argued.

Less talk, more action

Medical sciences and public health specialist Tommi Vasankari said that inactivity is a major problem that affects many generations and age groups, but noted that there is no prescription or medicine to address it.

He noted that there has been much talk about the importance of exercise, but added that debate on the issue tends to arise mainly on ceremonial occasions. There has been very little concrete action, he charged.

He called for the authorities to introduce taxation reforms that incentivise people to exercise more by offering financial support for the purchase of items such as electric bikes. He also proposed customised exercise counselling for different groups.

Moreover, he called for society to design environments that promote activities such as walking and cycling.

“We should perhaps move bus stops about 150 to 200 metres away from the front door of major workplaces. That would allow hundreds of people to walk a few hundred metres every day,” Vasankari suggested.

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