Obesity and physical inactivity are steadily increasing among children. This also affects its resistance to higher temperatures. A Slovenian expert who has written a comprehensive overview of current studies on this topic warns about this. The work has been published in the journal Temperature.
Assistant Professor Dr. Shawnda Morrison, an environmental exercise physiologist, explained in a news release accompanying her research that physical fitness is key to tolerating higher temperatures, but children are heavier and less fit than ever.
Children cannot acclimatize as well as adults.
Children’s body surface area is larger relative to their body volume and they sweat less. They rely more on so-called “dry” mechanisms of heat exchange compared to adults. Although children can acclimatize to heat, they do so more slowly than adults. Repeated training in the heat leads to physiological adaptation and reduces heat stress. However, until now, detailed information on heat stress in children when they are physically active is lacking.
This could put future teens at higher risk for heat-related health problems, such as dehydration (dehydration), heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke.
Professor Morrison of the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia is an expert in adaptive and integrative human physiology in extreme environments. He has more than 20 years of experience in the study of athletic performance and exercise physiology, particularly in hot environments.
Their assessments are based on a comprehensive review of more than 150 medical and scientific studies on how children stay physically active, exercise, cope with heat, and how this could change if global temperatures continue to rise.
Being overweight doubles the problem
In particular, he draws attention to a study of 457 primary school children aged 5 to 12 in Thailand that found that overweight youth were more than twice as likely to have trouble regulating their body temperature as overweight youth. normal when they exercised. outdoor.
In another study, data from children’s hospital emergency departments in the US found that the number of admissions was higher on hotter days. Therefore, younger children need emergency care especially often on hot days.
Research has also found:
- Children’s aerobic fitness is 30% lower than that of their parents when these children were the same age.
- Physical activity among children is rapidly declining around the world, especially in the last 30 years.
- Most children do not meet the World Health Organization’s recommendation of an average of at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day.
- Physical inactivity increased in Europe, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, when schools and other social infrastructure were closed.
Rising temperatures could further limit physical activity if children’s parents find temperatures outside “too hot to play,” making it even more difficult for untrained and fit children to fall short of minimum levels of physical activity to stay healthy, Morrison said.
Higher temperatures and changes in climate are also expected to cause outbreaks of new diseases in humans. If more restrictions are imposed to contain these new epidemics, the consequences for the physical, mental and physical health of children will be potentially devastating.
Heat regulation through the skin.
Morrison also points out that when it comes to thermoregulation (how the body maintains its internal or core temperature), young children are not just small adults. Children sweat less than adults in hot weather. Teenagers lose heat by increasing blood flow to the skin, a process that makes the heart work harder.
Despite these differences, most of the research on how the body adapts to higher temperatures has been done in adults. Most of the little research that has been done on children was done 15 to 30 years ago, when children’s fitness levels were much higher than they are today.
“As the world warms, children are more ‘incapable’ than ever. There is an urgent need to encourage children to engage in daily physical activity to develop and maintain fitness, so that moving their bodies is fun and not perceived as ‘work’ or ‘chore,’” says Morrison.
Activities can be a mix of structured games, such as soccer or basketball, and active games with friends and family. Everything should preferably take place outdoors.
Physical Education (PE) instruction led by physical education teachers is the best and most cost-effective way to increase fitness levels and prepare children for lifelong exercise. Families also play a role. “[…] Try not to avoid the heat entirely, but choose the cooler times of the day (morning/evening) to stay active, as we need to keep moving in this warming world.
Sources: news, Taylor & Francis press release, Temperature