Autistic Kids Lead a More Sedentary Life than Their Peers

First Posted: Sep 29, 2014 06:41 AM EDT

In a latest study, a team of researchers has discovered that autistic kids lead a more sedentary life as compared to their peers.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the manner in which a person communicates with and relates to people. According to experts, this complex developmental disability presents itself during the first three years of life. It is estimated that 1 in 68 children have autism.

Researchers at  the Oregon State University found that children who are diagnosed with autism lead a more sedentary life when compared to their developing peers averaging 50 minutes less a day of moderate physical activity and 70 minutes or more of sitting each day. This finding is based on the evaluation of 29 children in which a few had symptoms of autism and others were normal healthy teens. 

They study showed that children with autism perform similar to their typical peers on fitness assessments like BMI, aerobic fitness level and flexibility.

"The results warrant expanding the study to a larger group of children," said Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU's College of Public Health and Human Sciences. "These kids, compared to their peers, are similarly fit. That's really exciting, because it means those underlying fitness abilities are there."

In this study, the researchers tested the levels of fitness and physical activity in 17 children with autism and 12 children without autism. The fitness assessments  were conducted in the Movement Studies in Disability Lab at OSU that included a 20 meter multi-stage shuttle that measures the aerobic fitness, a sit-and-reach test that measures the flexibility and a strength test that measures the handgrip strength as well as measurements of the participants height, weight and body mass index.

The children also wore accelorometers for a week to measure their movement, and parents filled out supplemental forms to report crucial information. Though they were more sedentary, autistic kids lagged in one fitness measure and strength test as compared to their peers. This finding is encouraging as autistic children are at par with their peers when it comes to physical fitness activities.

The researchers further plan to determine why children with autism tend to be more sedentary. They, however, assume that it is due to lack of sufficient opportunities to take part in organized sports or physical education activities.

"Physical fitness and physical activity are so important for living a healthy life, and we learn those behaviors as children," MacDonald said. "Anything we can do to help encourage children with autism to be more active is beneficial."

The finding was documented in autism Research and Treatment.

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