Report sounds warning over SA kids

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For the first time in history, there are more children overweight and obese compared to those who are under-nourished or stunted, and less than 20% of children and youth are meeting recommendations for physical activity.

The 2016 Healthy Active Kids South Africa (HAKSA) Report Card was launched nationally this week – a combined effort of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa and Discovery Vitality. Two Rhodes University academics, Professor Candice Christie (Department of Human Kinetics and Ergonomics) and Professor Harry Dugmore (Journalism and Media Studies), have been involved in the project for the past few years. They contributed to the 2014 report card and the 2016 version.

Nearly 40 countries participate in this Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance which includes academics, educators, health professionals and other stakeholders. The idea is to get children (and parents) to be more active and to support healthy eating. The initiative includes a comparison of data about South African children over time (2007, 2010, 2014 and now 2016) and also to compare South Africa to the other participating countries. The report cards grade various aspects of activity and eating behaviour in children and youth aged 6 to 18 years. An A grade means you are doing great and a F grade means you fare really badly. The overall grade for the South African Report Card is a ‘C’ for overall physical activity and a ‘D’ for overweight and obesity.

According to Professor Vicki Lambert from UCT, who has lad the South African arm of the project, less than 20% of children and youth are meeting recommendations for physical activity. Further, for the first time in history, there are more children overweight and obese compared to those who are under-nourished or stunted. Both over and under nutrition can result in malnutrition, which is rife in South Africa.

One in four pre-schoolers is overweight or obese, while one in five is stunted, with 74% of children in rural settings being underweight.

Less than half of our children participate in sport and few schools have a physical education programme. Primary school children (50%) are below average for general motor fitness skills and there is a known link between this and poor academic performance.

Our children are also spending more time being sedentary, watching television or on their electronic devices – this in itself is an independent risk factor for chronic disease. Children who are active but who spend the rest of their time sedentary are also at risk for chronic disease, so breaking up sitting time at school is paramount.

The 2016 report card at a glance

Physical activity indicators Grade Highlight
1. Overall physical activity levels C At least half of children are meeting global recommendations for physical activity. Efforts are still needed to promote physical activity for girls and teens.
2. Physical fitness and motor proficiency D Health-related fitness is fair to poor. More than half of primary school learners perform below average in motor proficiency.
3. Organised sports participation D Less than half of South African children and youth take part in organised sport.
4. School physical activity environment D Primary school children have relatively low levels of in-school physical activity. Physical Education is not well implemented.
5. Active travel C Walking or riding to school is an important daily physical activity for children, but safety is a concern.
6. Sedentary behaviour F South African children spend an average of 3+ hours per day in front of a screen.
7. Peer/ family support C- There is a general lack of support from families and peers for participation in physical activity.
8. The community and the built environment C- Community initiatives and park upgrades are associated with greater physical activity. Plans for greater reach and access are promising.
9. Government strategy, policy and investment B More than three-quarters of South African schools are registered for Sports and Recreation South Africa (SRSA) school sports programmes.
Nutrition indicators Grade Highlight
1. Overweight and obesity D Levels of overweight and obesity continue to rise amongst South African children and adolescents.
2. Under-nutrition C Under-nutrition in South African children is decreasing at a slow pace, but continues to co-exist with over-nutrition.
3. Fruit and veg intake D There’s no improvement in fruit and vegetable intake as a result of the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP).
4. Sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugar and salty snacks F South African teens drink an average of more than one soft drink per day; have a weekly sugar intake three times the recommended amount; and a have higher than recommended salt intake from snack foods alone.
5.Fast food F In the last five years, the number of people buying any fast food per month has increased by 10 million, to 30 million.
6. Advertising and media D Government legislation controlling marketing of unhealthy foods to children is continually delayed, and advertising of sugar-sweetened beverages in and around schools remains pervasive.
7. National School Nutrition Programme B The reach of the programme remains at 9 million children in 341 schools. Improvements in reducing stunting and obesity were seen, but external evaluation is needed.
8. Vegetable gardens C The number of schools with vegetable gardens that contribute to the National Schools Nutrition Programme (NSNP) remains stable (around 8800).
9. Food insecurity D The challenge of food insecurity and childhood hunger, juxtaposed with obesity, is ongoing.
10. Early childhood nutritional status D Nearly one in four preschoolers is overweight or obese and one in five is stunted.

 

“The question is, who is responsible for ensuring our children become more active and eat healthier?” Christie said. “The answer is that it is all of us – the government, community leaders, schools, parents, learners, etc. So part of the initiative is to encourage and facilitation interventions so that we can make our children and nation healthy.”

Read the full report card here:
Healthy Active Kids South Africa Report Card 2016
Healthy Active Kids South Africa Report Card 2016 summary

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