Help your kids stay active to avoid becoming couch potatoes

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published Jul 10, 2017

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Smartphones, iPads, laptops, PlayStations and TVs. We love them, but our kids love them even more.

Most children will be jumping on a couch with these gadgets, and the school holidays are characterised by overeating, sleeping in and “screen invasion”.

A sedentary lifestyle has the potential to turn children into couch potatoes, experts warned.

Janet Mitchell, a trained physical educator and co-owner of The Kids Gym in Cape Town, said kids need to stay active during the holidays.

They should take brisk walks, cycle, spring-clean and garden, she added.

“When choosing outings, choose things that require action and not going from one sedentary environment to another,” Mitchell said.

A combination of overeating, junk food and inactivity could lead to childhood obesity, she said.

“This has serious consequences on health, both in the short term and more especially in the long term, as the risk profile for serious life-threatening diseases is increased,” Mitchell said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said primary and high school pupils should have a “minimum” of one-hour activity per day. According to WHO, more than 50% of primary school pupils and 70% of high school pupils do not meet these requirement.

Dr Shalin Singh, a paediatric surgeon from Life Kingsbury Hospital, said working parents don’t have time to enrol their kids in a holiday programme.

When kids aren’t active they can become overweight and weak, Singh added. Over the long term, this can affect their bone density.

“Physical activity also stimulates the brain, and kids who aren’t active often struggle more at school than their sporting counterparts. Activity also teaches valuable life lessons like interpersonal interaction and team work-which is beneficial for kids,” she said.

To avoid children overindulging on junk food, Singh said eating out should be considered a “treat” and not a regular event.

“Processed foods just don’t carry the same nutrients as fresh foods and also contain harmful ingredients like tartrazine and monosodium glutamate, which exacerbate allergies and asthma,” she said.

“Sugary, fizzy drinks are not just bad for teeth, but far exceed the required daily calories without satisfying hunger.”

The key to healthy eating is consuming fresh fruit and vegetables every day, she added, as well as a balanced diet that includes food groups that contain proteins, carbohydrates and fats - all essential for the growth of children.

“As a paediatric surgeon, I see many patients with constipation and we shouldn’t forget fibre as an important adjunct to a healthy diet for a healthy gut,” Singh said.

Mitchell said pupils should be given low-fat drinks like drinking yoghurts as part of their lunch.

Before deciding on fitness activities, she added, parents need to know the fitness levels of their children, and what exercises are appropriate for them.

“Children need to have fun first and then they will enjoy being active - they need to be able to feel that they are achieving something,” Mitchell said.

“So if the activity is too hard, they will lose interest and give up.

The activity should not be an endurance it must be fun.”

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