Child obesity rates are on the rise in SA

South African children are getting fatter. They’re eating more and moving less…

As a mom to two littlelies who never stop moving, that’s hard to believe.

But, it’s true.

According to the recently published Healthy Active Kids South Africa (HAKSA) 2018 Report Card, South Africa is struggling to meet the right standards of physical activity for children. Add junk food, too much screen time and too little sleep to the mix – and it’s no wonder that our child obesity rates are on the rise.

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Why are our school-aged children getting fatter?

Our children sit more and move less

It’s a fact: Our kids are leading sedentary lifestyles – and many of them do not get close to the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity in a week, says Michael Mthethwa, Physical Education Specialist Lecturer at the Embury Institute for Higher Education (Musgrave Campus).

Many children don’t take part in extra-mural activities, which means that they spend their school days sitting long hours in the classroom, only to go home and sit some more – whether in front of their homework, the TV or an iPad.

Inadequate nutrition

Lunchboxes can make up to 50% of your child’s daily food intake. And, while most parents try their best – many don’t get it right when it comes to preparing a healthy lunchbox.

Think flavoured milk, fruit juice boxes, processed cold meats and pre-packaged cereal bars…

Just because these items are enjoyed by our kids (and so convenient to grab out the pantry) doesn’t mean they’re healthy.

READ MORE: 10 Superfoods to help your child focus at school

Physcial education is not prioritised in schools anymore

Michael alerts us that physical education (what you and I will remember as PE) is not prioritised in schools anymore. “Often, educators or schools feel that they’re unable to implement PE due to a lack of equipment or sporting resources”, he says.

With no compulsory PE lessons, some kids don’t take part in any form of movement or exercise throughout their school day.

With no compulsory PE lessons, some kids don’t take part in any form of movement or exercise throughout their school day

So, what can we do?

Focus on food

Children need fuel to grow, to play and most importantly, to learn. Children who eat better, tend to perform better at school – this is because they have enough energy (the good kind) to focus during school hours and complete homework once at home.

Now, even the most organised of moms will admit that packing a school lunch box can be challenging because you need to balance the nutritional needs of your child with your household food budget and packing foods that they will actually eat.

Children are more likely to eat their lunch (and not default to the school tuck shop) if they have a say in packing it. So, get your child involved; give him a list of foods that are currently in the fridge and pantry, and allow him to mix and match his own lunch box items!

Make sure that your child helps you pack a balanced lunch box that consists of a protein, a fruit, a starch and lots of water. And, don’t forget to keep to child-sized portions!

READ MORE: Lunch box tips for busy moms

Get your kids moving

Exercise is important. And, so is fresh air and sunshine…

If your kids don’t take part in any extra murals – then it’s up to you to get them off the couch! Here are a few ideas to get them moving:

  • Kick or throw a ball around your backyard
  • Take your dog for a walk
  • Blow bubbles, and challenge your kids to run around and pop them before they hit the ground!
  • Set up an obstacle course using items you find around the house
  • Go for a bike ride

If you exercise, why not get your kids their own mats and have them follow your routine with you! You’ll be surprised at how much fun they will have exercising with mom!

READ MORE: 5 Realistic exercise tips for busy moms

Our schools can help

Prioritising PE can help set the tone that movement and exercise should be part of our daily lives.

Often, educators or schools feel that they’re unable to implement PE due to a lack of equipment or sporting resources. According to Micheal, this shouldn’t be a barrier to helping children get moving.

“PE or physical activity does not necessarily require fancy resources – it could be as simple as making one’s own equipment from consumable packing, such as filling an empty soft drink bottle with beads or rice to create a shaker, which children can shake and move around with,” he says.

All children should also be encouraged to participate in school sport – and not just the top athletes, rugby, cricket and netball players in the school!

Helping children lead healthy lifestyles begins with parents and schools who lead by example

Combating obesity starts with us implementing daily habits over time, which in the end, will make the difference between our children leading healthy or unhealthy lives.