The state of health of SA’s kids

PUBLISHED: Wed, 24 May 2017 14:33:21 GMT
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The 2016 Healthy Active Kids South Africa (HAKSA) Report Card – coordinated by the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA), supported by Discovery Vitality – revealed the startling  state of South Africa’s kids’ health.

The report reveals that:

  • Malnutrition is rife: One in four preschoolers is overweight or obese while one in five is stunted. 74% of children in rural settings are underweight.
  • More than half of primary school children tested below average for motor control skills. Motor proficiency is linked to academic performance.
  • Less than half of children play sport and few do physical education at school; often environments aren’t conducive.
  • South African teens consume more than one soft drink per day, and three times the recommend amount of sugar per week. High sugar consumption is linked to a host of chronic diseases.
  • Most children eat less than one portion of fruit or vegetables per day. The recommendation is five per day.
  • There are 30 million consumers of fast food in South Africa, up by 10 million in the last 5 years.
  • Children watch TV for an average of three hours and day, with significant numbers watching five hours a day.

The study evolves from a collaborative effort of universities and institutions around the country with over 30 representatives formulating the final report. An important advocacy document, the report card grades various aspects of activity and eating behaviour in South African children and youth aged 6 to 18. Developed according to available research, the report builds on the evidence gathered for previous report cards in 2007, 2010, and 2014. The overall grade for Healthy Active Kids South Africa Report Card is a ‘C’ for overall physical activity and ‘D’ for overweight and obesity.

“On a global scale, less than 20% of children and youth are meeting recommendations for physical activity, and for the first time in history, there are more children who are overweight and obese, compared to those who are under-nourished or stunted,” says Professor Vicki Lambert, who has spearheaded the South African report card initiative since its inception in 2007. “Both these challenges are robbing children of reaching their full potential, and both demand our urgent attention.”

UNESCO and the World Health Organization consider it a fundamental human right for children to have the opportunity to participate in sport, physical activity and play; and to achieve the highest attainable standard of health.

“The 2016 HAKSA report highlights the opportunity we have to enable improved health for our children,” says Dr Craig Nossel, Head of Vitality Wellness at Discovery. “If every individual – parent, educator, or member of the public – makes one positive change in the way they eat or move, we can create a revolution that influences our children for the better.”

The 2016 report card at a glance

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Physical activity indicatorsGrade Highlight
1. Overall physical activity levelsCAt least half of children are meeting global recommendations for physical activity. Efforts are still needed to promote physical activity for girls and teens.
2. Physical fitness and motor proficiencyDHealth-related fitness is fair to poor. More than half of primary school learners perform below average in motor proficiency.
3. Organised sports participationDLess than half of South African children and youth take part in organised sport.
4. School physical activity environmentDPrimary school children have relatively low levels of in-school physical activity. Physical Education is not well implemented.
5. Active travelCWalking or riding to school is an important daily physical activity for children, but safety is a concern.
6. Sedentary behaviourFSouth African children spend an average of 3+ hours per day in front of a screen.
7. Peer/ family supportC-There is a general lack of support from families and peers for participation in physical activity.
8. The community and the built environmentC-Community initiatives and park upgrades are associated with greater physical activity. Plans for greater reach and access are promising.
9. Government strategy, policy and investmentBMore than three-quarters of South African schools are registered for Sports and Recreation South Africa (SRSA) school sports programmes.
Nutrition indicatorsGrade Highlight
1. Overweight and obesityDLevels of overweight and obesity continue to rise amongst South African children and adolescents.
2. Under-nutritionCUnder-nutrition in South African children is decreasing at a slow pace, but continues to co-exist with over-nutrition.
3. Fruit and veg intakeDThere’s no improvement in fruit and vegetable intake as a result of the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP).
4. Sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugar and salty snacksFSouth African teens drink an average of more than one soft drink per day; have a weekly sugar intake three times the recommended amount; and a have higher than recommended salt intake from snack foods alone.
5.Fast foodFIn the last five years, the number of people buying any fast food per month has increased by 10 million, to 30 million.
6. Advertising and mediaDGovernment legislation controlling marketing of unhealthy foods to children is continually delayed, and advertising of sugar-sweetened beverages in and around schools remains pervasive.
7. National School Nutrition ProgrammeBThe reach of the programme remains at 9 million children in 341 schools. Improvements in reducing stunting and obesity were seen, but external evaluation is needed.
8. Vegetable gardensCThe number of schools with vegetable gardens that contribute to the National Schools Nutrition Programme (NSNP) remains stable (around 8800).
9. Food insecurityDThe challenge of food insecurity and childhood hunger, juxtaposed with obesity, is ongoing.
10. Early childhood nutritional statusDNearly one in four preschoolers is overweight or obese and one in five is stunted.

“The solutions to better health for our children lie in our own hands, in mutual accountability, from parent to child, educator to families, government to schools and communities, and international trade environment and international agencies to member states,” says Professor Lambert.

Download the full report.