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Technology cuts kids' activity time

Technology cuts kids' activity time

Being active: Sport Waikato SportsForce hockey development officer Jack Clayton puts a Bodywise group through some drills as part of their physical activity session.

Increased “screen time” due to advancing technology has been identified as a contributor to childhood obesity.

Screen time is now one of the measures – along with diet and exercise – looked at by the team in Bodywise, a Waikato District Health Board and Sport Waikato programme aimed at helping bigger-sized kids.

“Advances in technology have increased screen time. Traditionally this was just TV but now this includes computers, DVDs, hand-held games, web-based portable devices and phones,” says Natalie Parkes, the DHB clinical psychologist on the Bodywise team.

“Parents think they are doing well by getting the kids away from the TV but they need to be outside and active.

‘’We know from research that kids who spend time outside are also more active when they are inside.”

Bodywise has been helping overweight and obese Waikato kids aged 5-12 years since 2004 through a 14-month family-based programme encouraging healthy choices.

“The focus is on overall health rather than getting kids to lose weight, so the focus is on healthy foods, exercising and just making good choices,” Natalie says.

“We encourage the families to do things together and at the end of the programme many say they have really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it.”

The Bodywise team includes a dietician, doctor, psychologist and family co-ordinator/administrator. Much of the programme happens at Sport Waikato’s Hamilton base, after an initial consultation at Waikato Hospital’s Children’s Clinic.

The Bodywise team don’t set out to get kids to lose weight, the aim is to slow down or halt weight gain as they grow taller.

This is achieved by half to two-thirds of children who finish the programme.

Natalie says “life just sometimes gets in the way”.

“Things like when both parents are working fulltime, it’s hard to plan meals and cooking in a busy family. And kids have a lot on.

“It’s hard to make lifestyle changes – and there’s lots happening in modern families, and it doesn’t take much for things to go off the rails. When you look at individual families who might not have done so well, you can see the obstacles are often great.”

A long-term evaluation covering 44 families is due next year to see if initial changes made have been sustained.

While there are programmes in a few centres for overweight kids, there is no programme like Bodywise elsewhere in the country.

The kids don’t do the programme on their own; after the initial assessment there’s a parent information evening, and a parent or support person is required at the twice-weekly sessions which run for six weeks at Sport Waikato. There are monthly follow ups which last a year, often at home or school, with three-monthly ones at Sport Waikato when the scales come out.

Natalie says most parents get involved because they understand the health risks ahead for an obese child and want to reduce these. And there are often already issues for the children such as bullying, low self-esteem and general emotional wellbeing.

“About 30 per cent of New Zealand children are overweight and 10 per cent are obese. Up to 80 per cent of obese children grow up to be obese in adulthood, and that’s when health issues like diabetes and heart disease kick in. Out goal is early intervention so these kids grow up to enjoy healthy adult lives.”

Bodywise can take more kids on the programme; parents can gain a referral through their family doctor.

Breakout box….


Have breakfast every day

Take a healthy lunch from home

Eat together as a family when possible

Eat 5-plus a day fruit and vege

Kids need at least 10 hours’ sleep a day

More than 60 minutes “huff and puff” activity a day and less than two hours’ screen time out of school


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