Now a small North Carolina company is changing that by turning technology into an impetus for active play in children.
These kids are doing their own thing on the playground, while competing with one another in a virtual world.
This is Sqord, or S-Q-O-R-D. It's a combination computer game, social network and real world exercise. Coleman Greene is a co-founder.
"Our idea is not to say that technology is the problem, but rather embrace it, and say that it can be part of the solution," Greene said.
Kids wear a practically indestructible power band that contains a 3-axis accelerometer. It tracks their physical activity throughout the day, capturing a range of motion, duration and intensity.
"Then you swipe it over a little bay station, which plugs into the side of a computer, then wirelessly uploads to our website," Greene said.
On the website, kids see which of their friends "sqord" the most exercise in a day.
Although bragging rights are involved, kids can only communicate with their friends by selecting a predetermined list of positive phrases and virtual high fives.
Sqord targets the 8- to 13-year old crowd. Childhood obesity experts say it's during this time period that physical activity plummets.
"It's quite a vulnerable period during this middle school transition," Dr. Dianne Ward with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said. "And parents may have to work harder to try to find their children outlets for activity."
The cool thing is that you don't have to be a soccer star or the fastest runner. When you're wearing the band, all you have to do is play.
In NBC's experiment with Sqord, kids literally would not stop moving - jogging extra laps and hopping around while waiting to see their score.
"I even noticed that when I put it on, I wanted more points, so I went out and played a little soccer with my brother," one 13-year-old said.
Like any good online tool, Sqord is slowly going viral - piquing the interest of YMCAs. Pilot programs have begun in some Florida and Colorado schools.
The Sqord technology will be available to the public after Jan. 1, 2013. Click here for more information.