According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children should getting a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity each day, including aerobic activity and sports/play designed to strengthen muscles and bones. For adults, the CDC recommends 150 minutes (two-and-a-half hours) of "moderate-intensity aerobic activity" each week, as well as some degree of muscle-strengthening activities.
The above guidelines might seem like a lot, but as a kid (I'm in my mid-30s, for reference) I remember finishing my homework and playing until sundown, which equated to two to four hours per day, seven days per week. Albeit, this was before smartphones, Netflix, and 3D video gaming systems, so distractions were few and far between.
Because of this, at least to me, today's kids seem somewhat unrecognizable relative to my generation. While that might be taken as nothing more than conjecture, the 2015 Participation Report from the Physical Activity Council, or PAC, would suggest that my view of kids today, as well as the entire U.S. population, may not be too far-fetched.
A nation of couch potatoes
According to PAC's 2015 report, which was conducted during January and February, and surveyed 10,778 individuals and households online, the rate of inactivity among Americans aged six and older was 28.3%, up 70 basis points from the previous year, and hit its highest level since 2007, when PAC readjusted what qualified as a measure of physical activity.
What constitutes physical activity according to PAC? The study currently examines 120 sports, 104 of which require some level of physical activity. An "inactive" response constitutes an individual not participating in any of the 104 sports within the past 12 months. Thus, based on PAC's report, about 83 million Americans are considered inactive, including a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds, while roughly 209 million Americans are still considered active.
Why is inactivity on the rise? One idea suggested by PAC is that physical education in our public schools is lacking. Some schools have cut back of physical education classes due to budgetary constraints, while others have simply cut it altogether in order to provide more subject matter classes. Either way, kids and adolescents these days are being given less of an opportunity to exercise, and this latest study appears to confirm that.
Also, as Tom Cove, chief executive of the Sports and Fitness Industry Association and a member of PAC, noted in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, team sports for younger kids are becoming increasingly hyper-competitive and selective. Kids as young as nine to 11 are being forced to choose whether they want to devote their youth to playing a sport, potentially out of state, or to give up that sport for other interests.
I'd also suggest the downward trend in activity among Millennials is a direct correlation to advancements in technology and convenience. As I noted earlier, I didn't have an Xbox 360 waiting in my house when I got home from school, and I certainly couldn't stream the latest movies in a moment's notice. Convenience could be the culprit that's hindering activity levels among our nation's youth and young adults.
A broad implication worth considering
Put plainly, PAC's data is saddening, especially at a time when we'd like to think the CDC is doing a good job of educating children and adults about the importance of regular physical activity. But, the reality is, our nation's obesity statistics more or less align with what we're seeing in PAC's annual report.
Even though U.S. adult obesity rates fell from 35.7% in 2010 to 35.1% in 2011-2012, this figure has been on a near-steady rise for decades, coinciding with Americans being less active. Among children and adolescents between the age of two and 19, boys saw their obesity rates rise from 14% to 18.6% between 1999-2000 and 2009-2010 according to the CDC. Girls' rates rose slightly as well, from 13.8% to 15%, though this wasn't considered a statistically significant change.
These statistics are particularly alarming when you consider that obesity has been linked as a high-risk factor for a number of serious diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. To be clear, being obese doesn't mean you're automatically going to get any of these diseases. However, when the data is examined, obesity and cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes tend to correlate.
I believe the broad implication to consider from PAC's report is that we could see a longer-term rise in demand for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular health products.
Consider a company such as Amarin (NASDAQ:AMRN), which has a single drug currently on the market, Vascepa, to treat patients with extremely high triglyceride levels. Later this decade, once Amarin's REDUCE-IT cardiovascular outcomes trial is complete, Vascepa may have an opportunity to move into a much broader moat of the population with high (as opposed to strictly extremely high) triglyceride counts. If large swaths of the population are failing to get adequate exercise, it's plausible that a drug like Vascepa could take on increased importance since a lack of exercise can lead to an increase in bad cholesterol.
Likewise, since Millennials love convenience, streamlined therapies could come to the forefront. Take MannKind's (NASDAQ:56400P706) inhaled diabetes product, Afrezza. Afrezza removes the need for diabetes patients to give themselves an injection, and it was shown in clinical studies to metabolize faster and leave the body quicker than the placebo, implying that it could lead to fewer incidences of hypoglycemia, which can be just as dangerous as high blood sugar. Afrezza is fast-acting and convenient, which could make it a go-to diabetes therapy in the coming years.
Ultimately, obesity rates aren't going to reverse overnight, and neither are Americans' activity rates, based on PAC's latest study. It's difficult to suggest exactly which drug developers could play a significant role in helping to support the health of more sedentary individuals, but this nonetheless could present an avenue for investors to take advantage of a growing reliance on pharmaceutical products and the goal of drug developers to improve the quality of patients' lives.