worry as kids get fatter
article - Sunday, July 27, 2008)
NEW survey shows worrying numbers of school children are overweight, the
ministry of education has said schools alone cannot fight the childhood
“Obesity cannot be solved simply by increasing Physical Education (PE)
lessons. It’s an issue that involves a lot of factors including parents
and society as a whole,” said Physical Education Inspector for Primary
Education and Head of Health Programmes for Primary Education,
Statistics released this week reveal that of 2,500 children tested in
Paphos and Strovolos, four out of ten primary school children were obese
and two out of ten kindergarten children are overweight.
The majority of children also had high cholesterol and blood pressure,
the statistics showed.
Worse still, the growing obesity rate meant children as young as eight
had high cholesterol. This then put them at greater risk of developing
coronary artery disease and other health related problems in later life,
“It’s appalling,” he said.
Ioannou encouraged adults and parents to become more involved in
creating the right environment for children to have healthy options.
“Children cannot change the environment on their own. They have to learn
to make decisions to be healthy and not just be fed information about
being healthy. A lot of children come to school already obese so PE is
not going to solve the problem,” he said.
An EU funded ‘Shape Up’ programme implemented at Nicosia’s Lakatamia
Municipality had been hugely successful, and there are now discussions
to extend the programme to other schools. The idea had been to encourage
children to come up with solutions for a healthier lifestyle, including
a change in diet and more physical activity.
“Parents and teachers must work together to create an environment that
doesn’t make children obese but teaches them to lead a healthier
lifestyle instead…. It is our duty as adults to create a healthy
environment and to set an example for children by being more active,” he
Given the opportunity, more children would become more active. A pilot
programme introduced two years ago at Tsirio primary school in Limassol
was testament to this. The programme involves students’ voluntary
participation in skip rope and cycling activities after school.
“In the morning parents sometimes come in and play basketball with the
kids. This is motivation for the children,” he said.
Ioannou said obesity was an international issue.
“It is not so much considered a trend but an epidemic that is
continually growing,” he said.
The problem was a given and particularly prevalent in developed
countries, with Cyprus no exception, he said.
“It is predominantly worse among the low to middle socioeconomic strata
of developed societies because junk food is an easy option,” he said.
Working parents simply found it easier to give their children “junk food”
than to prepare healthy options. The same applied to exercise.
Thirty-six-year-old Maria Antoniou has three children in primary school
and is well aware of the obesity problem.
“A lot of times I think parents are to blame. I know an eight-year-old
girl who is a size 14 and her parents give her a huge sandwich for her
snack and money for the canteen. I think they are under the delusion
that as she gets older the weight will simply drop off,” she said.
Although her children had a sweet tooth, they were not allowed to eat
chocolate more than three times a week.
“They’re only allowed a piece of chocolate or two fingers of a KitKat,”
Crisps and biscuits were not kept in her kitchen cupboards as that was
too much of a temptation for her offspring.
Food was rarely fried in her home and pulses were on the menu a minimum
of two times a week. As for takeaway foods, that was limited to delivery
pizza once a fortnight, she said.
“I don’t want them to learn bad habits. If they learn to eat well now,
they’ll eat well as adults. Their father and I try to set an example by
showing hem the right way to eat, she said.
Antoniou admitted that she had her mother to cook for her in the evening
and her children ate with her aunt at lunchtime.
“It’s a huge help. Because I work it would be very tiring to have to go
home and cook. Nevertheless, I still would do it rather than feed them
junk food that is high in fat and sugar,” she said.
Her children went to school with a packed lunch made up of a sandwich,
piece of fruit and fruit juice.
“On the occasion I do give them money to get something from the canteen
they have a sausage roll or pizza. Imagine if they ate from the canteen
every day,” she said.
The 36-year-old said she believed the fact that her children took
dancing lessons outside school also helped keep them fit and healthy.
“If they relied on PE at school they’d never get any exercise. They just
play football or basketball. Is that being physically active?”
In the Education Ministry’s defence over the content and frequency of PE
lessons, Ioannou said it had diverted its focus from “competition”
“In the past our goal had been to find two or three good athletes. Now
our goal is for all primary school children to learn that they can
exercise and have a right to physical activity,” he said.
Schools no longer focused on Track and Field competitions as this sent
out the wrong message to children that they were not good enough to take
part in sports.
“The focus in procedure is not to find the best athlete but to send out
the message that every child can be active and has his or her own
performance. One can jump one metre and another four metres. When the
focus had been to find the best, nine out of 10 students were sidelined,”
At present PE is offered twice a week as part of the curriculum. Ioannou
thought this was too little and hoped that it would change when the
schools’ curriculum came under review as part of the Educational Reform.
He said PE was currently offered daily at 15 all-day schools and that
its introduction had been successful.
“They can choose karate, or ping pong or tennis. We try to offer as wide
a variety of sports so that students learn physical activity encompasses
a whole range of activities,” he said.
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2008