Worldwide 17,6 million children under the age of 5 years are obese. Statistics in South Africa are not encouraging either: among children between the ages of 6 and 13, over 2% of boys and around 5% of girls were obese, and almost 20% of girls are overweight.
"This isn't 'baby fat' that children will outgrow," said Professor Hans de Ridder, Director at the Northwest University's (NWU) School of Biokinetics, Recreation and Sport Science at a recent meeting of the South African Science Journalists Association (SASJA) in Cape Town.
The high incidence of obesity among children are due to a sedentary lifestyle, urbanisation, unhealthy diet, broken homes and the rise of the "internet generation," who spend a lot of their free time sitting in front of a screen instead of playing outside. According to De Ridder, South African children on average spend four hours a day watching television, while in the US, children spend about two hours in front of the television.
He noted that South Africa's high incidence of crime inhibited children from playing outside, and offered that classes like PE (physical exercise) should be reintroduced at schools to ensure children get more exercise in a safe environment.
De Ridder criticised schools that only focus on their top sports teams and don't pay any attention to the rest of the school. "In schools, if you are not in the first or second team, you are out. It is critical that all children are exposed to sports at a young age," he said. – (Health24, October 2011)