Kids With Chronic Illnesses Stay Active

Study Shows Children With Asthma, Diabetes, or Cystic Fibrosis Keep Up Physical Activities

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on January 12, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 12, 2009 -- Children with chronic diseases often don't see themselves as too sick to take part in physical activity, and that's good, a new study shows.

What's more, children who feel good about themselves appear to be influenced by positive attitudes of their parents, Australian researchers say. Their study is published in the January edition of BMC Pediatrics.

Few children in the study mentioned any negative impact of their conditions, which included asthma, type 1 diabetes, and cystic fibrosis, on their physical activities. The youngsters' positive beliefs were shared by their parents. This influenced how much the children participated in physical activities, the study shows.

The parents and their children were interviewed separately. The researchers suggest that the upbeat attitudes of the youngsters and their parents could make it more likely for youths with chronic problems to grow into healthy adults.

Two "overarching" themes emerged from the study:

  • Beliefs and perceptions of children and young people that they could do anything their peers could, in relation to physical activity.
  • Parents indicated they'd "do anything" to make the wishes of their youngsters come true.

Chronic Conditions Don't Impede Activity

The researchers quoted a 13-year-old boy named Martin. He says, "There's nothing I can't really do because I just put my mind to anything and I can do it."

And the father of a 13-year-old boy with cystic fibrosis says his son is "probably the most active of them all."

The children, whose attitudes were gathered in interviews and from art exercises such as drawing, made it clear they engaged in a wide variety of athletic activities.

A 15-year-old named Mark with type 1 diabetes drew a diagram suggesting he plays cricket, walks the dog, hangs out with friends, and runs around on the soccer field.

Some of the children discussed incidents in which they were treated differently because of their diseases. "One of the PE (physical education) teachers used to treat me as if I was about to die," says a 10-year-old girl named Eloise, who has asthma. "That's so annoying."

In general, the researchers found that the youngsters didn't want to be treated differently, felt they could do what others could, and were not pleased when singled out.

Kids and Chronic Conditions: The Parents' Role

Parents explained they take precautions to make sure their children can exercise, such as packing the right kinds of foods or inhalers, and aren't shy about making suggestions to coaches.

"The message from the children and young people in this study was a positive one," the researchers write. "Through their drawings, photos and words, they described their involvement in a wide range of physical activities, games, and sports both in and out of school."

Attitudes of parents help the young people learn how to manage their health problems, the article asserts.

One area for future research suggested by the findings will be to investigate whether the same upbeat attitudes exist in parents and children in lower socioeconomic groups. The researchers say schools and communities should provide programs for sports participation at minimal cost.

The study was written by Jennifer Fereday of the Australian government-run Children, Youth and Women's Health Service. Scientists from Flinders University and the University of South Australia also participated in the research.