The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that childhood obesity is one of the most serious health crises facing the global population in the 21st century. A UK study found that in 2012/13 over a third of Year 6 students (aged 10-11) and over a fifth of Reception children (aged 4-5) were either overweight or obese.
The dangers of childhood obesity are well documented, not only are there physical risks associated with overweight children, there are also far reaching emotional and psychological issues involved. Overweight children are at risk of suffering from low self-esteem, anxiety and depression often caused as a result of being bullied and teased by others.
Obese children are also more likely to become obese adults, a condition that can cause raised blood pressure, the clogging of arterial linings with fatty deposits and raised cholesterol. Combined with a higher risk of skin infections, asthma and musculoskeletal disorders such as tibia vara (Blount disease) the consequences of being unhealthy and overweight as a child can have a lasting effect on their future health.
The International Diabetes Foundation recently issued a statement declaring that the world is facing a twin epidemic of obesity and Type Two Diabetes in young people, caused by an inactive and unhealthy lifestyle.
Teaching children the importance of a healthy varied diet and daily exercise can help them establish lifelong habits and avoid becoming overweight. There are numerous benefits to exercising as a child, as well as avoiding the health risks associated with being overweight, regular exercise also greatly reduces the risk of heart disease in later life.
Exercise also helps to develop the strong muscles and bones that are essential for growing children and body fat is also reduced through exercise, in young people this can boost self-esteem and confidence in their appearance.
Encouraging participation in team sports and promoting healthy activities amongst children provides them with opportunities to develop and learn new skills such as team work and socialisation. Important life lessons such as working hard, patience, persistence and dealing positively with setbacks and failure are also taught through participation in sports activities.
There have also been reports that suggest endurance sports such as organised athletics can enhance brain development in children and increase IQ scores. Children who play team sports transfer the skills they learn through these activities into other areas of their life. Improved concentration, motivation and leadership skills in children can all be attributed to a healthy regime and involvement in sports.
Exploring nutritional foods with your child and finding a sport or hobby that they enjoy can help to lay the groundwork for a continued active and healthy lifestyle throughout adulthood. There are a variety of exercise options available to children from traditional team sports such as rugby, football and hockey to more specialised activities such as equine sports, fencing and martial arts.