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One in four South African preschoolers is overweight or obese - What does the research reveal?

24 May 2017Dr Craig Nossel, Dicovery
Dr Craig Nossel, Head of Vitality Wellness at Discovery.

Dr Craig Nossel, Head of Vitality Wellness at Discovery.

The 2016 Healthy Active Kids South Africa (HAKSA) Report Card – coordinated by the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA), supported by Discovery Vitality – evolves from a collaborative effort of universities and institutions around the country with over 30 representatives formulating the final report. An important advocacy document, the report card grades various aspects of activity and eating behaviour in South African children and youth aged 6 to 18. Developed according to available research, the report builds on the evidence gathered for previous report cards in 2007, 2010, and 2014. The overall grade for Healthy Active Kids South Africa Report Card is a ‘C’ for overall physical activity and ‘D’ for overweight and obesity.

“On a global scale, less than 20% of children and youth are meeting recommendations for physical activity, and for the first time in history, there are more children who are overweight and obese, compared to those who are under-nourished or stunted,” says Professor Vicki Lambert, who has spearheaded the South African report card initiative since its inception in 2007. “Both these challenges are robbing children of reaching their full potential, and both demand our urgent attention.”

In South Africa, the picture isn’t much brighter. The report reveals that:

• Malnutrition is rife: One in four preschoolers is overweight or obese while one in five is stunted. 74% of children in rural settings are underweight.
• More than half of primary school children tested below average for motor control skills. Motor proficiency is linked to academic performance.
• Less than half of children play sport and few do physical education at school; often environments aren’t conducive.
• South African teens consume more than one soft drink per day, and three times the recommend amount of sugar per week. High sugar consumption is linked to a host of chronic diseases.
• Most children eat less than one portion of fruit or vegetables per day. The recommendation is five per day.
• There are 30 million consumers of fast food in South Africa, up by 10 million in the last 5 years.
• Children watch TV for an average of three hours and day, with significant numbers watching five hours a day.

UNESCO and the World Health Organization consider it a fundamental human right for children to have the opportunity to participate in sport, physical activity and play; and to achieve the highest attainable standard of health.

“The 2016 HAKSA report highlights the opportunity we have to enable improved health for our children,” says Dr Craig Nossel, Head of Vitality Wellness at Discovery. “If every individual – parent, educator, or member of the public – makes one positive change in the way they eat or move, we can create a revolution that influences our children for the better.”

The Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance is a network of researchers, health professionals and stakeholders who are working together to advance physical activity in children and youth from around the world. The Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance was established in 2014, following the success of the world’s first Global Summit on the Physical Activity of Children in Toronto. South Africa is one of 39 countries around the world who take part in this report card (known as the Global Matrix 3.0) initiative.

“With this report, we look beyond whether or not South Africa’s children and youth are meeting recommendations, and attempt to unpack those factors that contribute to making healthy choices easier, or that may stand in the way,” says Professor Lambert. “In addition to thenine physical activity and ten nutrition indicators of previous reports, we included a new section concerning physical activity and nutritional status in early childhood. This is particularly pertinent given that both under- and over-nutrition adversely affect growth and development.”

Lambert says that a unique feature of the 2016 Report Card is that they are launching it to kids. “We want them to take some ownership in bringing about the changes we need to facilitate healthier lifestyle choices. We want them to feel empowered to call for what is, in fact, their human right.”

The 2016 report card at a glance

“The solutions to better health for our children lie in our own hands, in mutual accountability, from parent to child, educator to families, government to schools and communities, and international trade environment and international agencies to member states,” says Professor Lambert.

Download the full report.

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