Rising child obesity calls for ‘social vaccine’
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.