By Mariane Wray – WBC Coach
(Adapted from the American Council on Exercise Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist Manual)
Life has changed since I was young. No longer do kids roam the neighbourhood for hours on end with their friends, and turn up at someone’s house when they get hungry. No, now we live in apartments, travel everywhere in cars, take our kids to after school tuition, and place more importance on academic achievement than physical movement.
Well, turns out that physical movement is likely to have a direct impact on academic ability, among other things. More on this later.
Youth & Obesity:
Physical activity amongst children and adolescents (youth) is becoming a major public health concern. Look around, its easy to spot fat kids these days. I don’t remember any kids being overweight when I was a child, and nor should they be. This problem is so significant, that health agencies are predicting that the youth of this generation will not experience life as long as their parents, due to the increase in weight related illness and disease.
In the U.S, the prevalence of childhood obesity has tripled over the past few decades, and Type II Diabetes (once called adult onset diabetes) is now being diagnosed in adolescents. Although there are relatively few studies on youth obesity in developing countries, the information that is available suggests that changes in dietary practices and an increase in time spent in sedentary activity have caused an increasing prevalence of childhood obesity in developing countries such as Malaysia.
In Malaysia, the recent industrialisation and urbanisation has brought about changes in lifestyle. These changes include differences in diet and physical activity, which are known to be associated with changes in health and an increase in chronic diseases.
Local studies highlight the increase in nutrition and weight related diseases, across age, ethnicity, and location of residence (urban vs. rural) in Malaysia. Malaysian adults are currently the fattest in South East Asia, and it appears as though this trend is being passed on to their offspring.
Sedentary habits gained during childhood and adolescence increases the risk of developing major health problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis later in life. The onset of diabetes in youth is especially of concern, as it means that conditions related to this disease, such as blindness, amputations and kidney failure, will occur earlier in life. Youth obesity is associated with mental health problems, such as depression and low self-esteem. This is difficult to assess and treat here in Malaysia, given the stigma associated with mental health conditions, and the limitations of the health system to deal with these issues.
Obese youth often report having fewer friends, are more likely to be teased about their weight and ostracised by their peers. They miss more days of school, which may significantly impact upon the quality of the education they receive. Obese youth also report a diminished quality of life in comparison with their healthy weight peers.
How has this happened in Malaysia?
How have these significant health issues developed amongst Malaysians? Particularly when this country has had the luxury of observing mistakes made in the developed world?
Instead of active, unstructured outdoor play, youth are spending more time with electronic media. Time outside of school is more and more taken up with sedentary tuition, and leisure time is spent online or with electronic devices. In addition, high energy snack foods and beverages are easily accessible and affordable, and many youth are not meeting the minimal nutrition recommendations of five servings of vegetables and fruit each day. Schools are reducing or eliminating play time, in favour of more study time, and many Malaysian schools do not have outdoor equipment for children to play on and develop movement skills. Urbanisation often involves living in a condominium or high rise, where getting outside is difficult, and childhood activities such as bike riding are impossible on Malaysian roads and in the suburbs.
Benefits of Physical Activity in Youth:
So obesity and overweight in children and adolescents is a significant problem, but one that is not insurmountable. Efforts to increase physical activity during childhood and adolescence are likely to have favourable health benefits in later years, most noticeably the absence of weight related illness and disease. Behaviours acquired during youth that promote health are likely to be carried on into adulthood. These physical activity habits established during childhood and adolescence may have the greatest impact on longevity and mortality – meaning that if your child participates in physical activity now, they are likely to engage in physical activity habits as adults, and live a longer, healthier life than their sedentary peers.
Not only may the physical activity habits you instil in your child today help them to live a healthier, longer life, but they are likely to experience many of the other significant health benefits associated with physical activity. Some of these are listed below.
Benefits to Youth of Physical Activity:
Increased muscular fitness
Increased aerobic fitness
Increased bone density
Improved motor skills
Enhanced sports performance
Increased resistance to injury
Enhanced psychological well-being
Positive social interactions with peers
Improved attitude towards lifelong physical activity
Enhanced academic performance
Physical Activity & Academic Achievement:
Although research on the effects of physical activity and exercise on academic performance is sparse, technological advances in this area are examining this relationship further. However, previous studies have concluded a significant and positive relationship between physical activity and cognitive functioning in children. Providing opportunities for your child to engage in physical activities not only has the potential to increase the quality and quantity of their lives, but also to improve their cognitive abilities and academic performance.
Youth Physical Activity Recommendations:
Current physical activity recommendations for youth are at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity. This does not have to be all in one go, and ideally children prefer to take this activity in 5 to 10 minute bursts – watch them play, and you will notice this. This activity can be made up of several 10 – 15 minute sessions, and should occur naturally throughout their day through activities like playing at school, participating in organised physical activities, or being allowed to play with friends outside.
In light of the information above, organised youth physical activity programmes are of major importance in Malaysia. In a country where outdoor activity is avoided, and sedentary lifestyles are increasing, Junior Bootcamp offers youth the opportunity to get outside and play in a fun, safe environment that meets the minimum daily recommendations for youth activity. Junior Bootcamp is a supportive environment that challenges the junior warriors physically, but allows them to engage in natural, developmental behaviours and activities. Junior Bootcamp provides the opportunity to make new friends, enjoy the feeling of movement and physical activity, as well as promoting confidence and self-esteem.
So what are you waiting for? Get your kids down to Junior Bootcamp this Saturday!
WARRIOR JUNIOR BOOTCAMP
For ages 6 – 9 & 10 – 14
for more information please go to
call/ WhatsApp: 012 459 4728
 Gupta, N., Goel, K., Shah, P. & Misra, A. (2012) Childhood Obesity in Developing Countries: Epidemiology, Determinants, and Prevention. Endocrine Reviews, Vol. 33 (1).
 Noor, M. I. (2002). The nutrition and health transition in Malaysia. Public Health Nutrition, Vol. 5 (1a), p 191-195.
 Noor (2002) & Moy, F.M., Gan, C.Y., and Zaleha, M, K, S. (2004). Body mass status of school children and adolescents in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition,13 (4), p324-329.
 Sibley, B.A., & Etnier, J.L. (2003). The relationship between physical activity and cognition in children: A meta-analysis. Paediatric Exercise Science, 15, p 243 – 256.