Ris­ing child obe­sity calls for ‘so­cial vac­cine’

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - HEALTH - Chantel Er­fort Manuel

THERE is a lot to be aware of dur­ing Au­gust. Not only is it na­tional Women’s Month and Or­gan Donor Aware­ness Month, but it’s also na­tional Child Health Month.

So it was apt that I found my­self de­liv­er­ing a talk on health and well­ness to a group of pri­mary school teach­ers last week, with a spe­cial em­pha­sis on how we can in­flu­ence the health habits of our chil­dren. Un­for­tu­nately the stats re­lat­ing to chil­dren’s health are not great. In South Africa, 23% of chil­dren aged be­tween 2 and 5 are over­weight or obese.

In­ter­est­ingly, and equally prob­lem­atic, is that for the first time in his­tory, there are more over­weight or obese chil­dren than there are un­dernour­ished or stunted kids.

These stats are con­tained in the lat­est Healthy Ac­tive Kids South Africa (Haksa) Re­port Card which was re­leased just over a year ago. The re­port, which grades the phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and eat­ing be­hav­iour of chil­dren aged 6 to 18 years, re­vealed that less than half of chil­dren sur­veyed play sport, or en­gage in phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. It also re­ported that our teenagers are drink­ing more than one sugar-sweet­ened soft drink ev­ery day and con­sum­ing three times the rec­om­mended amount of sugar a week.

With fast food gen­er­ally be­ing cheaper than good qual­ity, healthy whole foods – and more ag­gres­sively mar­keted – it’s not sur­pris­ing that the chil­dren sur­veyed re­ported an av­er­age in­take of fast food 11 times a week, with most of them eat­ing less than one por­tion of fruit or veg­eta­bles a day.

The rec­om­mended num­ber is five a day.

Added to this, chil­dren aged be­tween 10 and 17 watch TV for an av­er­age of three hours a day, with preschool­ers spend­ing as much as three-quar­ters of their day in­ac­tive and up to 86% of their time in­doors.

Lots of num­bers, I know. But what does it all mean?

In a nut­shell, obe­sity and over­weight lev­els among South Africa’s young peo­ple are in­creas­ing, par­tic­u­larly so for girls and young­sters in ur­ban ar­eas.

The stats also show that chil­dren who are obese at a young age are more likely to be­come obese teens. Specif­i­cally, boys who are obese be­tween the ages of 4 and 8 are 20 times more likely to be obese when they reach the age of 16 to 18. For girls, this num­ber rock­ets to 42%. What’s the an­swer?

The Haksa re­port calls for a “so­cial vac­cine”. Ba­si­cally, so­ci­ety has to get in­volved in pro­mot­ing healthy life­styles and nu­tri­tion choices and to be good ex­am­ples for our chil­dren. One of the ways

I try to be a good ex­am­ple is through the in­volve­ment of the 15 pa­pers I edit, in the an­nual Move 4 Health Cam­paign, run by the Sports Sci­ence In­sti­tute of South Africa, which is one of Haksa’s strate­gic part­ners.

For the du­ra­tion of the cam­paign, we pub­lish a free six-week pro­gramme to get peo­ple – specif­i­cally chil­dren – off the couch and ready for a 6km fun run/walk which will take place on Novem­ber 4 this year.

The me­dia cam­paign in Cape Com­mu­nity News­pa­pers (CCN) runs from Septem­ber 11, with the first part of the train­ing pro­gramme the fol­low­ing week. Any­one keen to join? Drop me a line at chantel@ edit­edeat­ing.co.za

For more on health, well­ness and the Pa­leo life­style, fol­low @edit­edeat­ing on so­cial me­dia.

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