Obesity a ticking time bomb
South Africa tends to focus too much on high performance sport, dismissing the physical education of those children who do not make the top teams at school, according to a South African sport scientist.
‘When you build a house, you lay a foundation. In similar fashion you cannot start with high performance sport if the foundation is not laid,’ said Professor Hans de Ridder, Director at the Northwest University’s (NWU) School of Biokinetics, Recreation and Sport Science.
Speaking at a South African Science Journalists’ Association (SASJA) meeting in Cape Town yesterday (TUES), De Ridder said the world was sitting on a ticking time bomb when it came to obesity, which was linked to lack of exercise.
In the past 30 years, the incidence of obesity has more than tripled in the United States, seeing First Lady Michelle Obama head up a drive to encourage children to exercise and eat healthy.
Health minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has also intimated that he would be looking at legislating against the promotion and advertising of fast food chains selling unhealthy food.
However, De Ridder believed that such a move would have limited effect and that it would be much wiser to find a local champion similar to Obama and to promote physical education in schools.
World Health Organisation numbers reveal that over 17-million children under five are overweight, with over one quarter of children living in so-called first world countries overweight and almost one in ten obese.
A South African study found that among children between six and 13 years, over two percent of boys and almost five percent of girls were obese. Almost 20 percent of girls were overweight.
De Ridder said that this state of affairs was due to a sedentary lifestyle, urbanisation, unhealthy diet, broken homes and the rise of the internet generation.
In South Africa, children spend on average over four hours a day watching television while in the US it is over two hours.
‘Childhood obesity is a threat to public health,’ he said.
He said it was critical to change the notion that sport was only there for the top performers in school.
‘Sometimes in schools if you are not in the first or second team you are out. It is so critical that children are exposed to sport at a young age,’ he said.
De Ridder said that the reality was that crime limited the options for children to play outside, but that schools offered many options.
A study done at the NorthWest University of children in a region of the province, found that a staggering 17 percent were obese.
Commenting on the performance of the Springbok rugby team De Ridder said that in his personal opinion the Springbok rugby team lost because they toured with some players who were injured.
He said the management had also failed to listen to sport scientists who warned that they players would burn out and be injured.
De Ridder added that there was anecdotal, unconfirmed evidence that the current team had many left brain players, but a lacked right brain players who would instigate creative play in situations where the game plan had to change.
Professor Cilas Wilders President of the Biokinetics Association of South Africa and Director of the Institute of Biokinetics at the NWU said he believed that the failure of the rugby team could also be traced back to the failure to develop players at a young age ‘ failing to teach them the basic skills of catching and throwing a ball, but are rather thrown in at the deep end and pressurised to perform.