Save Our Children From The Big Fat Problem

In a time when we rarely encourage outside play, the TV has become a substitute for much-needed activity. Globally, 108 million children are obese. These dangerous levels of obesity make it more important than ever to guide children’s habits. Parents are the first heroes to children. That being said, show them how heroes stay healthy – it’s well worth the sweat.

Cut screen time

Growing up, some may have heard, “You’ll get square eyes if you watch TV too long.” While you never saw anyone develop square eyes, it was a clever tactic because parents knew: if children do not play and move enough, they do not eat or sleep well. This principle has not changed, but children’s behaviour has. Between the ages of 10 and 17, children can watch TV for up to three hours a day and in some cases they are glued to screens for a quarter of a day – with this habit and the accompanying inactivity increasing as they age.

There is no disagreeing screens have a role in entertainment and education. It’s the overuse that is a concern – with idleness and obesity the most harmful consequences. Children who spend more than four hours a day in front of a screen are twice as likely to be overweight. The latest Vitality ObeCity Index also indicated this problem seems to be getting bigger, faster, and the increase in childhood obesity has been greater in some countries than the increase in adult obesity.

Too much screen time is a big culprit. Even adults are guilty. An AOL ‘Email Addiction’ survey’ indicated 67% of people check their email in bed; and more than 40% checked email in the middle of the night. And, youth-dominated Instagram use grew by an astonishing 133%. Another study found teens cut into sleep time by sending an average of 34 messages after bedtime. Researchers have linked this to mood swings, anxiety, depression and poor cognitive functioning.

So, how do we address the problem?

The key is finding a balance – between screen time and other activities that stimulate social development and physical activity. Cutting down screen time will free up time for play and outdoor activity. Create a cellphone ‘parking lot’ at home, and limit use of screens for everyone in the family. Professor Vicki Lambert, co-author of the HAKSA (Healthy Active Kids South Africa) Report Card suggests “shutting down screens well before bedtime. This will improve the quality of sleep and sleep habits in the family.”

Play more and show support for being active

Regular activity helps children function better, maintain a healthy weight and learn social skills. “The most powerful influence is parents who do physical activity with their children, and give them encouragement,” says Dr Craig Nossel, Head of Vitality Wellness. Parents can instil a love of activity and build movement into the daily routine.

1. Make play fun

Enjoy the classics – Hopscotch, Hide n Seek, Eggie in the Middle and Stuck in the Mud.

2. Give gifts of health

A cricket bat or soccer ball will get kids moving.

3. Schedule active time

Plan family walks, a day with friends and games like soccer, hand tennis or Frisbee. Replace Friday night pizza with a putt -putt tournament.

4. Encourage a variety of activities

Playing a variety of games and sports exposes kids to different skill sets, movement patterns and coordination, as well as gain different types of fitness.

5. Be a sport supporter

Turning up to watch your kids play soccer or swim in a gala, or arranging lifts to practices sends the message that you support an active lifestyle. Parkrun together at a free, weekly 5km run or walk on Saturday mornings.

How about when you are the guilty one, spending all your free time on your phone instead of with your children? Studies have shown that this can be even more detrimental to children’s development, and that this behaviour can cause lasting damage to the relationships between parents and their children. Click here to find out more about this.