Obesity and Lack of Physical Activity Affect Children's Academic Performance

Lately, I was trying to find information about factors affecting academic performance in kids. I found interesting information that links academic performance to both obesity and lack of physical activity. More important, the studies that I read suggest that parents and schools may both play a role on these issues.

Obesity and academic performance
 An article from The Telegraph (http://tinyurl.com/cmye6fj), reported the findings of a study conducted by Dr. Convit, a professor of psychiatry and medicine at NYU School of Medicine. He compared 49 teenagers with metabolic syndrome to 62 without and found that those showing physical changes due to being obese had poorer scores on thinking tests. To understand this study, you need to know that metabolic syndrome is a collection of at least three health problems associated with obesity which can include a large waist, low good cholesterol, high blood fats, high blood pressure and insulin resistance which is a pre-cursor of diabetes type 2. So, this study suggests that obesity has an adverse effect on academic performance.

Source: Statistics Canada (http://tinyurl.com/n8fmyg7)

Obesity in Canadian children
I am certain that you are all familiar with the fact that Canadian children are suffering an epidemic of inactivity that contributes to rising obesity rates.  Using World Health Organization standards of measurements, 31.5% of Canadians aged 5 to 17 years old can be classified as overweight (~1.6 million Canadians; statistics for 2009-2011) or obese (http://tinyurl.com/n8fmyg7).  The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines suggest youth aged 12 to 17 years should do at least 60 minutes daily of moderate to vigorous physical activity.  Unfortunately, less than half of Canadian children met those requirements three days a week, and fewer still (only 6.7%) met it six days a week.

Is there a role for parents?
In a new study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers were interested to investigate how kids play in parks or playground areas. The goal of the study was to help park designers create public spaces that would better entice kids to run around and exercise.  But along the way, the authors discovered that the single biggest barrier to children’s physical activity had less to do with park design itself and more to do with the hovering presence of a parent (http://tinyurl.com/ouspuqf).  

According to the lead researcher, Dr. Bocarro, “it’s a catch-22 for today’s parents, unfortunately.  Many parents are worried about the safety of their children, so they tend to hover”.  According to this study, the so-called “helicopter-parents” who show too much concern while their children are playing in the park actually cause them to be less active.  Based on observations made in this study, these parents often interrupt their children's spontaneous play, making them more sedentary. 

Although I certainly believe that giving freedom to children when playing in parks or playground is important, I also have to admit that like most parents I am often concerned about safety in these areas.  Unfortunately, the infrastructure in some playgrounds is not always well maintained and cutting objects can be found sometimes in areas where young children play.  So, at least for me, it is sometimes difficult to let my kid run freely without checking or being close by.  Perhaps, I follow him too much sometimes, but how do I know when I am overprotecting him?

Is there a role for schools?
Recently, the Globe and Mail reported the results of a Canadian test study regarding the effects of physical activity on academic performance (http://tinyurl.com/ouspuqf).  In this study, three different Grade 9 classes of at-risk students at City Park Collegiate Institute in Saskatoon were tested at the start and end of the school year.  Students who were in the physical education program for one or two years, and worked out for 20 minutes, three times a week, consistently out-performed those who did not do any physical activity.

After writing this post, two questions come to my mind:

1. How do we know when we go too far with the protection of our children in playground or parks?

2. Should schools intervene if increased gym time can help reduce obesity in children?

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