Childhood obesity is increasingly being common. Physical inactivity in elementary school children can lead to various diseases. Regular physical activity can prevent chronic diseases and lead to psychological well being.
Effects of physical inactivity
Childhood obesity can be traced to physical inactivity with an improper balance between energy intake and energy expenditure (Zahner et al. 2006).
The statistics of obesity in children presents an alarming picture: at least one child in five is overweight; the percentage of overweight children has more than doubled since 1970; type 2 diabetes is being increasingly recognized in children. Thus, there is an immediate need for physical activity and diet interventions to prevent this childhood obesity epidemic (Thompson & Shanley, 2006).
There is a high prevalence of metabolic risk factors in elementary school children. These metabolic risk factors include: low levels of high-density lipoprotein, elevated circulating triglycerides, and also an increase in inflammatory biomarkers like C-reactive protein and interleukin-6. Each of these factors have been associated with the development of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease (Sacheck, 2008).
Physical inactivity has been linked to various diseases like obesity, osteoporosis, poor fitness, and psychological problems (Zahner et al. 2006).
Although the school is the ideal place to improve the levels of physical activity (PA), there is not enough data from earlier school-based intervention trials on how to improve the overall PA.
Although attempts have been made in the past and present to enhance the levels of PA, only a small percentage of adults and children in developed countries have any kind of PA to maintain or increase health and for proper physical and psychosocial well being.
There is evidence that physical inactivity starts in childhood and follows into adult life. Sedentary behavior is encouraged by spending large amounts of time watching television and/or computer, not playing outside, by inactive parents or parents who do not encourage children to be active, and the lack of sufficient physical education at school (Zahner et al. 2006).
Physical activity can be defined as “bodily movement produced by the skeletal muscles that expends energy beyond resting levels” (Ward, Saunders, Pate, 2007). It includes occupational activities (walking, lifting etc), transportation activities (walking to work, cycling to school etc.), recreational activities (skating, rowing, gardening etc.), and exercise. In children, active play is the most common form of physical activity. Exercise is physical activity that is planned, structured, and repetitive and intended to maintain or improve health or fitness (Ward, Saunders, Pate, 2007).
“Physical education assures a minimum amount of physical activity by children and provides a forum to teach skills and knowledge to support lifelong physical activity”.
According to guidelines, elementary school children should receive 150 minutes per week of instructional education. Teachers should have baccalaureate degrees that license them as physical education specialists. This will ensure a high quality of physical activity (Gallahue, Cleland-donnelly, 2007). The physical education specialist should stay in touch with the latest research and trends in the field. Physical education classes should contain only about 25 students per class (Gallahue, Cleland-donnelly, 2007).
According to reports, at least 50% of elementary school children are stressed or exhausted, and unable to sleep well (Zahner et al. 2006). Adequate PA positively influences both physiological and psychological factors. Regular PA enables them to cope with stress, improves health perception and quality of life, and reduces anxiety and depressive symptoms (Norris, Carroll, Cochrane, 1990).
In addition to its positive effect on an individual level, regular PA can cause a positive effect in the environment at school by increasing social competence within classes. This in turn leads to improved social behavior, more satisfaction with school, and reduce instances of substance abuse like smoking (Prohl & Möser, 1996). Overweight children are more susceptible to suffer from a low self-esteem and from stigmatization and discrimination. Regular PA can prevent this (Must & Strauss, 1999).
Available evidence suggests that the bone mass in childhood and adolescence is related to the degree of weight bearing activity and calcium intake during that period of growth. Thus, regular PA in elementary school children can prevent osteoporosis even in late adulthood (Bailey et al. 1999).
In order to classify elementary school children as being physically active or not, a small set of questions have been developed. This has revealed significant associations with overweight/obesity due to PA. After further validation, this kind of classification can turn out to be an important tool to assess the impact of physical activity on childhood overweight and obesity (Bayer et al. 2008).
Physical inactivity has been linked to various diseases in school children like obesity, osteoporosis, poor fitness, and psychological problems like low self-esteem and anxiety. Adequate PA positively influences both physiological and psychological factors. Regular PA leads to improved social behavior, more satisfaction with school, and reduce instances of substance abuse like smoking.
Bayer O, Bolte G, Morlock G, Rückinger S, von Kries R (2008). A simple assessment of physical activity is associated with obesity and motor fitness in pre-school children. Public Health Nutr. 30:1-6.
Bailey DA, McKay HA, Mirwald RL, Crocker PR, Faulkner RA (1999). A six-year longitudinal study of the relationship of physical activity to bone mineral accrual in growing children: the university of Saskatchewan bone mineral accrual study. J Bone Miner Res. 14:1672-1679.
Gallahue, DL, Cleland-donnelly, F (2007). Developmental Physical Education for All Children. Human Kinetics.
Must A, Strauss RS (1999). Risks and consequences of childhood and adolescent obesity. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 23(Suppl 2): S2-11.
Norris R, Carroll D, Cochrane R (1990). The effects of aerobic and anaerobic training on fitness, blood pressure, and psychological stress and well-being. J Psychosom Res. 34:367-375.
Prohl R, Möser H (1996). Sport fordert das soziale Schulklima. Konzept und Evaluation einer Schulsportinitiative in Thüringen. Körperbeziehung.
Sacheck J (2008). Pediatric obesity: an inflammatory condition? J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 32(6): 633-7.
Thompson, CA & Shanley, EL (2006). Overcoming Childhood Obesity. Bull Publishing Company.
Ward, DS, Saunders, RP, Pate, RR (2007). Physical Activity Interventions in Children and Adolescents. Human Kinetics.
Zahner, L, Puder, JJ, Roth, R, Schmid, M, Guldimann, R, Pühse, U, Knöpfli, M, Braun-Fahrländer, C, Marti, B and Kriemler, S (2006). A school-based physical activity program to improve health and fitness in children aged 6–13 years (“Kinder-Sportstudie KISS”): study design of a randomized controlled trial. BMC Public Health. 6:147.