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The level of physical fitness and athletic ability in Japanese children remained constant between 1980 and 1990 but has plunged in the past 10 years, according to an Education Ministry survey.

Conducted from May 1999 to October 1999, the survey covered about 72,000 people aged between 6 and 79. While the survey results revealed only a slight change between 1979 and 1989, it showed a dramatic difference between that period and 1999.

Data comparing records of 19-year-old males and females in 1979, 1989 and 1999 showed little difference between those surveyed in 1979 and 1989 for their skills in handball and short- and long-distance running, but stark differences between the 1979 and 1989 results and those recorded in 1999.

According to data on the men’s 1,500-meter run, those surveyed in 1979 averaged a time of 6-minutes, 4 seconds, while the 1989 group averaged 6:12. The 1999 group, however, ran for 6:38, 26 seconds slower than the 1989 group.

Results were similar for the women’s 50-meter run. In 1979, the average time was 8.79 seconds, close to the 8.82 average a decade later. In 1999, however, an average time of 9.15 was recorded, an increase of more than 0.3 second.

The survey also showed that in recent years, children have generally had lower levels of athletic ability than adults aged 35 to 59. Ministry officials attribute this to children’s increased involvement in games and other indoor activities, which reduces their level of activity.

Adults, on the other hand, exercise more as they come to realize the importance of physical activity, the officials said.

The ministry analyzed data from 19-year-old respondents as they considered this to be an age on the brink of adulthood.

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