Leading by example

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
It was not good news this week for teenagers: more than 80% worldwide are insufficiently active for the good of their health and New Zealand teens are close to the worst, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.

Of the 146 countries surveyed, New Zealand teens ranked 138 for inactivity based on a recommended target of at least an hour of moderate exercise a day. This includes walking or cycling to and from school.

Dr Fiona Bull, a report author and the World Health Organisation’s lead expert on physical activity, said this worldwide trend was of major concern.

This is not the good start in life that we would want for our children and adolescents. The data are worrying for parents, the community and the health system.

The digital revolution has changed how we live, study, interact and play. We sleep less, sit more and drive more rather than walk and it’s impacting on our youngsters’ health.

Physical activity is important for bone, muscle, cognitive and motor skills development, and for the heart and lungs, reducing the likelihood of obesity, heart disease, cancers and diabetes.

Other research by Australia’s Deakin University found that parental behaviour was the most important factor in determining our youngsters’ physical activity levels.

The leader of that research, Associate Prof Anna Timperio, said that parents say they’re concerned about children sitting with electronic devices for long periods, but then allow these devices in their bedroom, and it’s known that having a television in the bedroom is associated with having a higher body mass index.

Parents might also allow children to eat in front of the TV or use screen time as a reward for good behaviour, which doesn’t promote physical activity and can normalise screen time.

Their report found that parents who ate breakfast, exercised, or had meals together as a family tended to have children who ate more fruit and vegetables and who were also more physically active.

This seems to put the ball firmly in our court. We need to take a lead in getting them active and setting an example by eating well and being active.

It takes time, especially if you have several youngsters, but averaging an hour of activity daily need not mean membership of lots of sports teams with all that goes with it. It could mean playing cricket or kicking a ball in the backyard or nearby park, walking a track, along the beach or just around the block to the shops, riding a trail or swimming at the pool.

Now is a great time of the year to get out and about and start some regular form of physical activity. Doing it with them would be great for family bonding.

 - Ian Munro

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