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Op-Ed: Mallard Talks About Getting Kids Active

Obesity among children in New Zealand is on the rise as our kids increasingly choose to play 'X-Box' and surf the net instead of climbing trees and playing cops and robbers. In this article Minister for Sport and Recreation Trevor Mallard talks about why it is important to combat the growing epidemic of "fat kids" in our nation.

Heidi Kristomo, 4yrs, from Hataitai Kindergarten With Trevor Mallard

Recently I visited Hataitai Kindergarten to launch a series of new resources designed to get more kids under five more active. The kids were very active – in fact they kept me on my toes! It is concerning however that this sort of active playing is no longer the norm among New Zealand kids.

Recent statistics from the Ministry of Health show that nearly one third of New Zealand children are overweight and one in ten considered obese - a major factor in this is sedentary lifestyles. Kids are no longer playing actively; television and the cyber world seem to have replaced outdoor games.

We want, and need, to combat this problem by making sure young kids are getting active, and living healthily – which includes eating healthily.

The potential health risks of obesity have been extensively documented. Childhood obesity can lead to lifelong illness for people, including adult obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart conditions and a range of other health disorders that can shorten a person’s life expectancy.

Fact Box:
1. Recent research from Sport and Recreation New Zealand (SPARC) indicates a decrease in the number of young people getting regular moderate physical activity (from 69 percent to 66 percent).
2. International studies also show physical activity is declining and inversely the prevalence of obesity is increasing.
3. The prevalence of obesity has increased rapidly over the past two decades in the developed world. New Zealand data indicates that between 1989 and 1997 the prevalence of adult obesity increased by 55 percent (Ministry of Health, Healthy Eating Healthy Action- A strategic Framework: 10).
4. Quality childhood movement experiences prepare the brain for language, art, maths, science, movement, group abilities and intelligences.

We also know that physical movement impacts on children’s cognitive abilities through the development of neural pathways. It enhances the development of the senses, problem solving and spatial awareness – all things that help children to learn vital skills such as reading, writing and mathematics, in later life.

That is why these new resources are important. They are part of the Active Movement initiative, which provides educators and parents with a range of physical activity options designed for under-fives.

Active Movement is initially aimed at raising participation levels of children under five in quality movement experiences, and increasing opportunities for children and families to access active movement activities. An important part of meeting these aims is educating the public on the importance of movement in early childhood settings.

The government, through SPARC, has committed $3.4 million over three years to the Active Movement initiative. This will go towards resources and tools, the employment of regional coordinators to implement the initiative in communities and professional development across the sector.

The network of regional coordinators will be responsible for working within communities to encourage the widespread implementation of the active movement recommendations - in homes, kindergartens and preschools.

By introducing the Active Movement resources I hope we can begin to re-think our attitudes to active lifestyles – by starting early. Teaching young kids to be active and healthy before they even get to school is a sure way to lift the activity levels of our nation in general, and combat child obesity.

I want New Zealand to become the most active country in the world and to do this we need to teach our children good physical activity skills and habits that they can carry with them into later life.

Copies of the resources are available from Regional Sports Trusts by telephoning 0800 ACTIVE or emailing education@sparc.org.nz.

The Active Movement book can be downloaded from: http://www.sparc.org.nz/publications/


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