When I was in grade five, all the kids at my school played sport. Even the one overweight girl in my class was the best softball player in the school, and lots of the boys surfed. No one’s parents really cared where we were after school as long as we were home by dark.
Twenty years on, my father teaches grade five in a Sunshine Coast School, and says he constantly receives notes from parents excusing their children from sport for all sorts of suspicious maladies.
Today approximately 23 per cent of Australian children are overweight, and six per cent are obese. These percentages have doubled in the last decade.
Anorexic eating disorders are documented somewhat hysterically by every teen and women’s magazine in Australia. But exercise disorders are a bigger problem. Kids are eating more processed foods, fats and simple carbohydrates. As a result, they have greater Body Mass Indexes (BMI). The equation is very simple: energy in exceeds energy out = overweight.
Relative body weight is usually sustained or increased from childhood to adulthood, and obese adults have a greater risk of Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obstructive sleep apnoea, high cholesterol and heart failure.
From Ireland to Portugal, research into childhood inactivity and obesity reveals the same result: prevalence of obesity is directly proportional to time spent watching television or as sedentary hours (thankyou, Nintendo/Xbox/Playstation).
Physical health implications aside and despite the growing numbers of sideways-growing kids, there is still a strong social stigma associated with being fat. Social acceptance, athletic competence and physical appearance directly affect the social and psychological wellbeing of a child.
The average person understands that eating too much and doing too little will make children fat, then obese, and that’s not good for them. So why does the problem continue?
We know that poor parental education is directly correlated with an increased incidence of overweight children, but we also know lots of fat, well-off kids. We also know that being a parent is a lot more complicated than it used to be. These days, there’s more of a ‘fear factor’ surrounding our kids and what it’s safe for them to do after school. And it’s always easier to give your kid money for lunch-junk than to get them to make something healthy to eat.
So what’s to be done? Bring back corporal punishment, and beat the sport into them? “ it worked for East Germany! Continuing along those lines, we could throw away all video games, abolish commercial television and ban meals at multinational ‘restaurants’.
The best place to start is to lead by example. Not, perhaps, the example set by some ugly parents. Esteemed ex-footballer Gary Ablett rose to the task of being the coach of the local under eights’ AFL team. Then he had to stand down after biffing the umpire in the mouth over a minor dispute.
Our children take their cues from us “ what we eat, what we buy, how we work, play, compete and relax. If we start taking our health seriously by making changes at home, there will be tangible results. Exercising with our children, encouraging healthy eating habits and affirming positive body image are all a good start.
This way, we can directly kickstart a reduction in morbidity from diseases associated with obesity and children will feel less excluded in their social environment. The impact of this on the community will be as beneficial as campaigns against other health problems such as SIDS, drink driving, cervical cancer and HIV/AIDS.
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