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The Youth Of A Nation

Children grow up, they become confused adolescents, then carry on to be successful adults in the “real world” which we hear over and over again throughout the aging process; but during the aging process itself, it adapts, changes and causes children to be unique and different from generation to generation. However these changes may not always be for the better. The rise in technology for example, the smartphone to name one. This product is a worldwide phenomenon, granted it has made adult day to day living much more simple, but has caused
children to demand a device which is just not justified for their age group. Gone are the days when time was spent outside riding bikes and imaginations created entire worlds. Instead, entire worlds are developed and delivered in ever-increasing immersive experiences. Whilst
entertaining, it directs children away from simple physical activity and leaves them sitting stationary, hunched over staring at a screen for hours on end.

This evolution within the human cycle is one which is not always for the better. It has caused children to be more sedentary than ever before and in relation, obesity is on the rise. This situation is not just held to a child specific age, the crucial learning a child undergoes while they are growing up, including those of a physically active aspect stay with them for life. They will continue to be sedentary through their adolescent years and onwards. The obese and pre obese children and adolescents of the world may not even know where the popular field is, let alone the local playground and this has grown into epidemic proportions worldwide. As mentioned in an article by Janssen et al. (2005) “… the adolescent obesity epidemic is a global issue.” This statement should be heard by every country’s leader, this should run cold in the veins and cause shivers down their spines, that is, unless they already have progressive actions in place and underway to fight the growing concern of weight and health issues found within the younger generations of their respective nations.

The nation’s leaders have the power to engage the entire population and those leaders who claim they may not have time to concentrate and channel power and support toward their younger generations are leaders who do not deserve the power. Out of the thirty-four countries who took part in a survey, the two countries with the highest obesity rates were Malta and America. Malta’s statistics were 25.4% of their younger generation is in a pre-obese stage and 7.9% are already obese; and America has 25.1% pre-obese, and 6.8% are obese, (Janssen et al., 2005). Twenty-five percent of children require that much needed attention and assistance before they become obese, this should be of greater concern than generating weapons of mass destruction.

These children are the future of their nations and this world. Without these children knowing how to be physically active and engaged in their health, they will age without ever having the knowledge of how to lead a healthy lifestyle and then pass this lack of knowledge onto their
children. Even though a country may have minimum physical activity guidelines they are not encouraging children to follow them. They are therefore reconfirming an already stated fact, and that fact is “… most countries [with] lower physical activity participation and higher television watching were associated with a greater likelihood of being overweight.” (Janssen et al., 2005). Televisions, smartphones and music devices have all been upgraded, revolutionized and made more attractive; eye-catching, causing the health and fitness world to have to attempt to keep up. A new television is released with a clearer picture, while a new piece of equipment is invented for fitness, a TRX strap, but which one gets more attention? Which new release is more widely purchased and/ or utilized? “Physical education (PE) has been an institution in American schools since the late 1800s,…” (Pate et al., 2006). While this fact grows older and older it is not helping the epidemic; this fact is just words on a piece of paper. Whilst technology may not have the history of PE, it is taking control of our children, and it is causing horrible health trends. Pate et al. (2006) say that schools have to be more proactive, they must promote physical activity.

Now why is a rise in technology causing children to be less interested in playing hockey, going for a jog with friends or even throwing a frisbee? This question cannot be answered by the health professionals. A television may hold hours of endless entertainment, but a game of hockey opens up endless amounts of joy with friends and community members. Physical activity levels increase among children and adolescents when there is support from family members and friends (Van der Horst, Paw, Twisk, & Van Mechelen, 2007). When you are a child, family support is the greatest thrill for a child, being cheered on when performing an activity not only makes smiles, but also creates memories.

A survey held in American schools found that “[m]ore than one third (38.2%) of students spent over three hours per day watching television.” (Pate et al., 2006). Furthermore, within the same survey it was discovered that out of 55.7% of high school students enrolled in a physical
education class, only 28.4% attended these classes on a daily basis, moreover, 80.3% of those attending spent only approximately twenty minutes performing physical activity, (Pate et al., 2006). These numbers are disgusting, even though there is an option to have physical activity on a weekly basis, adolescents do not capitalize on the opportunity, they would rather leave school early to be sedentary in front of a television or playing games on their iPhones. In saying that, research performed by Pate et al. (2006), suggests that a reduction in “screen time,” time spent in front of television and computers, may promote physical activity in children. However, by simply placing a time limit on allowed “screen time” in relation to obese children has resulted in an increase in physical activity. (Pate et al., 2006). More research is required to confirm these suggestions.

While there is copious amounts of discussion in relation to children being physically active and why they are not, people often overlook one aspect of why a child may not be physically active, and that aspect is due to their environment, neighbourhood or socioeconomic situation that the child may live in.

In research conducted by Molnar, Gortmaker, Bull, & Buka, (2004), the correlation between high levels of serious crime and a decreased likeliness of physical activity levels in children and adolescents was noted. Yet another relationship suggested that children who have witnessed a serious crime, for example, a murder, were less physically active (Molnar, Gortmaker, Bull, & Buka, 2004). This aspect of childhood physical activity may often be overlooked because people assume that every environment is safe. They do not take into account the more dangerous areas of towns. Naturally they do not think about it since they do not have to experience these situations, their mind skips over it when they think of children. Not every child attends a private school, has loving, caring parents or even someone to look after them, teach them how to live and how to live a healthy, fitness inspired life. This is a sad truth for many children and these children are just “unhealthy” statistics. This must also change as a nation moves forward and becomes proactive about levels of childhood physical activity levels.

The youth of a nation are the future of that nation, they deserve to be educated and looked after, they require daily teachings and assistance especially when technology is ever growing, and becoming a greater aspect of life than simple fitness and health. Although it may be difficult to convince a child to play hockey with peers outside rather than on a television screen, they will be forever grateful in the future because that is a life changing moment whether or not they know it at the time. If humanity wants to continue evolving into a greater species, we need to have started years ago. There is a change in mental processing which needs to be prevented and altered. If a child who goes through the human life cycle believes that walking through school is enough physical activity for a day, then we as current adults are not doing our part for our world, we are failing as a species and should be ashamed. Education is the future, not just science and mathematical education, but health and fitness education.

Now is the time to act, to teach and to hold ourselves responsible and accountable for our children's lives

By: Ryan Havin - NAIT PFT Student

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