Children need to get active

Child inactivity is a hot topic since a recent World Health Organisation survey claimed that the Cayman Islands have the worst record in the world. Ron Shillingford reports

Along with St. Lucian kids, Cayman has the most slothful kids on the planet, a health survey published in April claims.

The study, published in The Journal of Paediatrics, looked at 72,845 schoolchildren aged 13 to 15 from North and South America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The children were surveyed between 2003 and 2007.

The researchers defined adequate physical activity as at least an hour of exercise outside of gym class at least five days a week.

From Argentina to Zambia, Regina Guthold of the World Health Organisation in Geneva and her colleagues found most children are not getting enough exercise and it made no difference if they lived in a rich or a poor country.

Beth Schreader is Cayman’s fastest road runner, holder of many records and is a past winner of the Cayman Marathon.

She says: “Although there are so many sports facilities and programmes here in Cayman, there are also the same obstacles to a healthy and active lifestyle that are common in other places in the world with a childhood obesity and inactivity problem, like the US.

Just 25 years ago, people didn’t have computers and most people didn’t have video games at home. Now, we spend hours a day online and most homes have an Xbox, PS3 or Wii. That time used to be spent outside being active or playing on a sports team.

“There are a lot more fast food options and convenience and processed foods than there were a couple decades ago. We are a lot busier and it’s easier to go through the drive-thru than it is to make a nutritious home-cooked meal, resulting in bigger and bigger waistlines.

“Cost is also a factor. It is definitely more expensive to make healthy choices. My grocery list includes things like soy milk, Greek yogurt and a ton of fresh produce. I easily spend at least $100 a week on groceries. And that’s just for one person. I can only imagine how that would add up for a family.

“When you compare a neighborhood in Cayman to a typical suburban neighborhood in the US or Canada, there are some differences that also contribute to children being even less active here.

“There aren’t a lot of sidewalks and quiet streets for bike riding safely. There aren’t neighborhood parks down the street from home where kids can run around and play on jungle gyms. Also, in most cases, children don’t live within walking or biking distance to school. All of this adds up to a much more sedentary population.

“I don’t think I’ve inspired any kids to start getting more active but I’ve had a few adults tell me that they’ve taken up walking or running or they want to know what I eat.

“Healthy changes like that impact the entire family in a positive way. I do get a lot of ‘hey, you’re that runner girl’ from random people

“I think the most effective way for things to change starts at home. Parents are the most influential role models in their children’s lives.

“If they see their parents watching TV, eating junk food and not taking care of themselves, they are going to do the same thing. If they see them eating healthily and being active, they are going to want to do that too.

“We’ll never get rid of the childhood obesity and inactivity problems if we don’t address the adult obesity and inactivity problems. I think that if adults would make the commitment to making the health of their families a priority, then a lot would change.

“If cost is a factor then instead of joining a sports team, it can be as simple as going for a family walk after dinner. Or limiting the amount of time allowed online or playing video games.

“Instead of buying fresh produce, buy canned or frozen and get the same nutritional benefits. Instead of buying whole milk, buy two per cent. Instead of buying an unhealthy lunch every day, bring a healthy one from home.

“Families could also start a garden in their yard and grow some of their own fruits and vegetables. This is a great cost saver and also gets the kids involved and interested in the food.

“If you’re stumped as to what to cook, go online and look for healthy recipes. Basically, there isn’t one big thing that will magically make the problem go away. It’s going to take a lot of daily decisions that on their own don’t seem like much. But all those little decisions add up.

“This isn’t about perfection, it’s about consistency. It’s not realistic to say you’ll never eat a cookie again, but it is realistic to make the choice to eat the cookie one day but then have an apple instead the next.”

Jane van der Bol is a karate black belt and an equestrian expert. Mother to Ashley, 13, who is also a karate black belt and accomplished equestrian rider, van der Bol echoes what Schreader thinks too.

“I believe the bottom line stems from today’s technology,” she says.

“More children are spending more time watching television or playing videos and computer games. As technology has reached into almost every home, the need to go outside or take part of a sport is less interesting to most children today.

“It is important for adults and parents to lead by example and be a good role model. We need to pay attention to what we eat and how much we exercise.

“I love going to karate and reaping the benefits of what karate offers, not only as a form of exercise but also for confidence, strength and self defence. In both karate and equestrian, I enjoy talking with children about the different sports and their advantages and encourage them to try it.

“Parents need to keep their children active by including them in some sort of sport and they need to become more involved.

“Families should plan on doing sports together or even something as simple as going for a walk. Everyone knows that exercise improves your health both mentally and physically, therefore, helping academically and emotionally. It is also very important that we offer our children good nutritional options such as fruit, vegetables and healthy snacks.”

Marius Acker is one of the fittest men in the Caribbean. He competes in international triathlons and even at 39 the South African banker is in better shape than men half his age.

He says: “Children need to be encouraged and supported by parents. Children do not see their mom and dad playing sport or being willing to play sport with them twice a week so it worsens the inactivity problem.

“I support children’s triathlon and volunteer at the events. I also volunteer as a basketball coach for a kids basketball programme for several months of the year.”

Acker would like to do more to inspire youngsters but finds that protocol can get in the way.

“As far as the track and field is concerned I am not allowed by Government on the new track so it goes without saying that I cannot encourage kids to run track. I am able to encourage kids to swim as I use the facilities and are able to give encouragement.

“Parents need to step up to the plate and take responsibility for the health of their children. Children want to play sport with their parents watching and encouraging them. If the parents do not make an effort to play sport with their kids or support them, the situation won’t change.”

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Van der Bol thinks families should do sports together
02 June 2010

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