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Through age 12, well over half the children got at least the government-recommended amount of activity every day. By age 15, less than one-third were that active on weekdays, and only about 17 percent were on weekends.
Boys were more active than girls at every age. But by age 15, even boys' average activity levels fell short of recommendations, particularly on weekends.
Dr. Samuel Klein, director of Washington University School of Medicine's human nutrition center in St. Louis, said the research provides a more powerful snapshot than previous studies.
The rapid drop-off in exercise by age 15 shows that the preceding years are "really an area we should target," said Klein, who was not involved in the study.
Mary Lee, 13, said the results ring true.
The suburban Cleveland teen said she spends more time on the computer now than she did a few years ago, particularly with online social networking sites. She also didn't have physical education class every day last year, and will only have it for half the upcoming school year in eighth grade.
Lee recently took part in a health program at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland. The classes promote exercise and healthy eating.
She said she stays pretty active with volleyball and track, and has been able to avoid gaining weight with help from the program at the Cleveland hospital.
Making exercise fun is important, because if you do, you won't even realize if you're exercising," she said.
"It really helps and it makes you feel better about yourself," she said.
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