De­velop mind but don’t for­get body

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Are sports galas like the Nan­jing Youth Olympic Games, sched­uled to open on Aug 16, in­spir­ing events for Chi­nese youths? No, ifwe go strictly by the phys­i­cal health of the youths.

It’s easy to blame the short­age of pub­lic play­grounds and other sports fa­cil­i­ties— while spend­ing huge amounts of money on host­ing big sports events— for the sorry state of af­fairs. But the real blame for youths’ poor phys­i­cal health should be shared by par­ents and schools.

For long, Chi­nese peo­ple were known for their slim physique. In fact, some ofmy col­leagues say the word “obe­sity” was al­most alien to them un­til news­pa­pers first men­tioned it as a prob­lem in the late 1990s.

Fast food chains likeMcDon­ald’s and KFC opened their first out­lets in China in the late 1980s, and within 25 years they have not only cor­rupted Chi­nese peo­ple’s taste buds but also helped them put on loads of weight. Take a peek into any fast food out­let and you’ll see sev­eral big, fat din­ers, who de­spite their bulk lack cal­cium and es­sen­tial vi­ta­mins.

Vi­ta­min D, for ex­am­ple, is pro­vided only by sun­shine and fish oil. But few Chi­nese chil­dren stay out­doors long enough to get the nec­es­sary amount of sun­shine for their daily quota of vi­ta­min D. Chil­dren do not, or can­not, do so be­cause they have loads of home­work to do or have to at­tend ex­tra classes, or sim­ply be­cause their over­pro­tec­tive par­ents won’t al­low them to go out­side.

Lack of out­door ac­tiv­i­ties im­pairs chil­dren’s so­cial devel­op­ment too, for they end up know­ing lit­tle about team spirit, com­pe­ti­tion, in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships and mu­tual help.

A ma­jor­ity of Chi­nese stu­dents in gen­eral and al­most 90 per­cent of those in the col­lege stu­dents suf­fer from­my­opia, be­cause they re­main glued to books or com­put­ers for long hours on a reg­u­lar ba­sis to earn good scores in ex­am­i­na­tions. Phys­i­cal in­ac­tiv­ity makes them over­weight, too.

Ana­tional re­port on food and health in 2009 showed that 12 mil­lionChi­nese chil­dren were over­weight. In other words, 7 per­cent of the world’s over­weight chil­dren were in­China. In 2007, 19.5 per­cent of pri­mary and mid­dle school chil­dren in Bei­jing were over­weight, but by 2013, 20.7 per­cent of them were con­sid­ered obese. Chil­dren in cities con­sume more fat than those in ru­ral ar­eas but en­gage in fewer phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties to burn the ex­cess fat.

Be­sides, it’s not rare to see Chi­nese par­ents crit­i­cize school officials if their chil­dren re­turn home with even a small scratch on the hand or the leg, which in away pre­vents schools from en­cour­ag­ing stu­dents to play sports.

Even though the govern­ment has been try­ing since 2010 to make phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion classes com­pul­sory in schools, the 45-minute-a week pe­riod is of­ten “bor­rowed” by teach­ers to com­plete the syl­labi of “im­por­tant” sub­jects. Also, there is dearth of phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion teach­ers in the coun­try. To over­come such prob­lems, the govern­ment has to use phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion as one of the cri­te­ria to judge stu­dents’ per­for­mance.

Thrifty or lav­ish, theNan­jing Youth Olympic Games is not pre­vent­ing China from build­ing sports fa­cil­i­ties, so there is no rea­son to see it as a waste of money. Chi­nese chil­dren don’t play soc­cer not be­cause there are not enough soc­cer fields but be­cause sports is not con­sid­ered im­por­tant in ei­ther school or fam­ily ed­u­ca­tion.

The cri­te­ria and rules for phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties for stu­dents have been in place for a long time; the chal­lenge is their im­ple­men­ta­tion. Un­til there is a change in the coun­try’s exam-ori­ented cul­ture, the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem can­not trans­form into a dy­namic sys­tem that helps stu­dents to de­velop their moral, psy­cho­log­i­cal, in­tel­lec­tual, so­cial, as well as phys­i­cal ap­ti­tudes.

May theNan­jing Youth Olympic Games in­spire Chi­nese youths, who are en­joy­ing the summer va­ca­tion now, to move their bod­ies out­doors to get some sun­shine and play some games.

The au­thor is Cana­dian free­lance writer.

WANG XIAOY­ING / CHINA DAILY

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