Childhood Obesity and Physical Education

“Schools serve as an excellent venue to provide students with opportunity for daily physical activity, to teach the importance of regular physical activity for health, and to build skills that support active lifestyles”(Robert wood foundation, 2007). In today’s modern society, the importance of physical activity in a child’s development needs to be recognised and promoted. It is important that teachers and parents encourage and facilitate students to participate in programs which enable them to be both physically and mentally active.

Encouraging ‘middle aged’ (6-10yrs) children to be involved in physical activity, whether at school or at home, helps their growth and development and also promotes positive factors in their general health and wellbeing. Physical education can consist of various activities, either in the classroom or in the playground. Creating diverse programs and activities such as running, skipping, jumping, swimming, dancing and typical team sports, contribute to these physical aspects of growth and development.

These activities stimulate blood and oxygen circulation throughout the body and brain, which assists the academic side of learning, thereby increasing a child’s concentration span in the classroom. “When a child has a clearer mind and is physically active, they tend to perform better academically” (Robert wood Foundation, 2007). Encouraging children to participate in team sports and group activities can enhance their ability to understand teamwork, cooperation with others and good sportsmanship.

Physical sports and activities enable children to develop confidence and to also stimulate muscle strength, hand and eye coordination, gross motor skills and a good level of fitness. For children that receive no encouragement to be physically active and also have unhealthy eating habits, the risk of developing obesity, diabetes and other health problems becomes somewhat more prevalent. “In the decade 1985-1995, Australia saw sharp increases in the number of overweight or obese, and conservative estimates suggest that this is increasing by at least 1% per year.

These figures do not auger well for the future health and wellbeing of our communities” (NSW Department of Health, 2007). According to this statement, obesity is becoming more prevalent today and percentages are increasing every year. “The 2007/08 national health survey results indicate that 24. 9% of children aged 5-17 years are overweight or obese” (Department of Health and Ageing, 2008). The Department of Health and Ageing, (2008) states “the consequences of childhood obesity is its persistence into adulthood”.

In most cases when a child has been diagnosed as overweight or obese, the prospects of them becoming healthy and active in adulthood is low, which reinforces why encouraging physical activity and healthy eating habits is of paramount importance at an early age. “Once a child is overweight or obese it is unlikely that they will spontaneously revert to a healthy weight, predisposing them to many health concerns and suffering from an increase in medical conditions” (Department of Health and Ageing, 2008).

Physical activity at school and at home can help to reduce and prevent childhood obesity. Teachers can create and introduce specific programs into their lesson content to help address and control obesity. Implementation of these programs can give primary school children the necessary understanding of the importance of physical activity, good nutrition, rest and sleep and a healthy active lifestyle. Using these opportunities to educate students about obesity and the ramifications of such should be considered as part of compulsory educational programs.

Involving parents and making them aware of this issue should be considered also, as a child’s home environment can have a big influence on their physical activity, nutrition and lifestyle. “Obesity seems to have some genetic basis, but environmental factors, such as family eating patterns and restricted exercise, also play a role” (Mcdevitt & Ormrod, 2007). Obesity has many major health factors, but social and emotional factors are also involved. An obese or overweight child is more likely to be ‘picked on’ or bullied, excluded and called names by other children, which over time can cause major social, emotional and physiological issues.

It can lower a child’s self-esteem and confidence, the child may feel sad, unwanted, embarrassed and extremely self conscious. Teachers, parents, students and staff need to raise awareness in the prevention of obesity in young children. Teachers could utilise information sheets or leaflets about obesity and the ways in which families can help in the prevention of such. Teachers and schools could also hold information evenings for parents on this issue. These information evenings could suggest

actions that may be taken, the risks, factors, influences, nutrition and the physical wellbeing of these students, to prevent obesity. This scenario may also provide support for parents and families who are concerned with and may well be affected by this disease. “Fortunately, interventions, including dietary counselling, calorie restriction combined with increases in physical activity, and behavioural techniques, are often effective” (Mcdevitt & Ormrod, 2007). Many school students like to purchase snacks and lunches from their school canteen or tuckshop.

Teachers can encourage students to bring healthy snacks and lunch to school. To promote this, the teacher can create programs to ensure students are eating healthy nutritious foods whilst at school. An example, allocating particular days to a particular healthy snack such as, on Fridays we will bring fruit for ‘Fruit Friday’. Each child will then bring their desired piece of fruit that day, or ‘Yoghurt Tuesday”. This could be a fun way of encouraging students to bring healthy foods in their lunchboxes. Rewarding children when they eat healthy encourages them also, to continue with these healthy eating habits.

The teacher could make a rule that if everyone has their fruit on Friday or yoghurt on Tuesday, they can be rewarded with an activity they enjoy, involving physical movements, for 15mins afterwards as their reward. Teachers can also help to encourage healthy foods in canteens and tuckshops. Replacing foods and drinks which are high in sugar, fatty, unhealthy and have no nutritional value such as chips, soft drink, pastries, lollies with foods low in sugar, less fat and have more nutritional value like, milk, yoghurt, fruit, vegetables and fish. This can help with children’s diet and health.

“School canteens can be a major source of food for children and young people. Canteens that only sell healthy and nutritious food encourage good eating habits and can improve the diet of many students” (NSW Department of Health, 2007). A lot of schools have fetes, Easter hat parades, book club, fancy dress, mufti days and other special occasions, which is a good chance to only sell ‘junk food’ on these days. “The purpose of the school curriculum is to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to understand, value and lead healthy and fulfilling

lifestyles”( NSW Department of Health, 2007). Although the context of this assignment has been to primarily investigate the relationship of physical activity and development in an educational setting, the objective of the above statement by the NSW Department of Health is to also enhance and stimulate the intellectual development of our children’s minds by behavioural and cognitive learning. The utilisation of physical activity in an educational setting allows the child to understand their own world as they grow up.

They develop an understanding of their limitations but in contrast they learn to reflect on what they may have previously achieved, which unknowingly to them is a development of their cognitive thought processes. Reference List: 1. Mcdevitt, T. M, & Ormrod, J. E. (2007). Child development and education. New Jersey, Ohio: Pearson Prentice Hall. 2. NSW Department of health. ( 2007). Retrieved from http://kids. nsw. gov. au/uploads/documents/obesityactionplan. pdf 3. Robert wood Johnson foundation. (2007). Retrieved from http://rwjf. org/research/physicalactivity