Sean Van Staden
Columnist
3 minute read
13 Jul 2014
10:00 am

Chilling: this generation will die younger

Sean Van Staden

I was invited this week to attend the unveiling of the Healthy Active Kids Report Card where Discovery Vitality announced the much anticipated South African results.

Sean van Staden

I hope you are sitting down for this one because the picture is not getting better and for the first time in history, this generation of kids will live five years less than their parents.

The report card is a global initiative to measure the health state of children based on peer review of the last five years of research. In 2010 South Africa scored a C- and has this year been downgraded to a D. South Africa is slipping every five years and I bet you are wondering what this means?

Of the 10 areas in which physical activity is measured, South African children scored D in 4 of the areas, namely, overall physical activity levels, physical education, influences of school environment and influences of community and built environment.

That was not even the worst, South Africa children scored an F in sedentary behavior.

In layman’s terms, at least half of South African children are not active enough with an average participation of 20 minutes a day of physical activity as opposed to the recommended daily 60 minutes. Research did not have to look very far for the culprits, finding that children spend almost three hours a day watching TV.

The report’s research into nutrition found that children scored a D for obesity, D- for tuckshops and sugary drinks, an F for fast foods (ironically) and a F- for regulations on food advertisements aimed at children. In a nutshell, tuckshops in schools are a major cause for children becoming obese. The research even suggests that families with limited resources still buy at tuckshops or informal vendors. The scary bit of research found that more than two thirds of adolescents eat fast food three times a week.

South Africans drink three times the global average of certain soft drinks and since 2010 the obesity rate has increased: 27% of girls and 9% of boys aged 15-17 are overweight or obese.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand where South Africans are getting it wrong and all this research should confirm what you are seeing and experiencing on a daily basis. There is no one silver bullet that is going to solve these health problems and you can’t turn and blame Government either. The influence of Government scored a fantastic B, which means Government is doing its part in the fight against sedentary lifestyles. But Government alone cannot win the war.

So if Government is doing its part, where does that leave you?

Well, first you need to petition your school to clean up your tuckshop and offer at least 50% healthier food options and an even more radical idea that I have seen some schools already implementing is not to sell any fizzy and sugary cold drinks. I know there is a drive at government policy level to put a national tuckshop framework together, but you and I know how long these policies can take.

Get physically active, and that doesn’t mean telling your child to go and play. It means dedicating 60 minutes a day to physical activity with them. You have five years to reclaim on your child’s life and if your child’s health and wellbeing mean anything to you, then 60 minutes of sacrifice a day is not too much to ask.

Last but not least, cut out the junk food. I know you are working hard and possibly doing two jobs to give your family the best life you can afford, but problems arising from obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes will cost you thousands of rands in medical aid bills down the line.

Your health and that of your children can be seen as a short- and long-term investment. Just start exercising and watching your nutritional intake and you will see an immediate positive effect on your energy levels and waistline. In the long-term, your investment will see your own children enjoy a healthy lifestyle with their own children and passing down the healthy lifestyle you implemented.