The Irish Times view on physical activity levels in Irish teenagers: the sedentary threat

School children must be encouraged and supported, and given access to opportunities to get involved in physical activity

Four-out-of-five schoolchildren between the ages of 11 and 17 take less than one hour’s exercise a day and, as a result, compromise their future health. Photograph: Alan Betson

Four-out-of-five schoolchildren between the ages of 11 and 17 take less than one hour’s exercise a day and, as a result, compromise their future health. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Exercise and a balanced diet are primary elements that contribute to a long life and the likelihood of enjoying a healthy one as well. Many young Irish people – and their parents – have not yet got that message. Four out of five schoolchildren between the ages of 11 and 17 take less than one hour’s exercise a day and, as a result, compromise their future health.

A survey involving 146 countries, compiled by the Lancet medical journal, has identified Irish children as being amongst those most at risk of long-term, negative health consequences because of inadequate levels of exercise. Girls were found to be at more risk than boys. In order to improve the health of future generations, the report called for government investment, social marketing, direct engagement with young people and community-based interventions involving the promotion of female role models.

This sedentary threat to public health has been growing for decades but without an adequate official response. Much talk. Little action. One health specialist warned last week that, without specific Government intervention, “we will see a generation developing chronic diseases at ever younger ages and requiring multiple drugs to control their conditions.”

The World Health Organisation recommends one hour’s moderate exercise a day, involving sport, cycling, walking or other forms of activity in order to counteract rising global obesity levels. It is not an onerous requirement. Ireland is on course to become one of the most overweight nations in Europe, according to another survey, with one-quarter of children found to be either overweight or obese. The figure for adult males is much worse, reaching 70 per cent, while 52 per cent of women fit into that category.

Instilling healthy eating and exercise habits in young people is vital if we are to shift obesity trends. School children must be encouraged and supported, and given access to opportunities to get involved in physical activity.

The social and financial cost of doing nothing to meet this challenge will only grow.

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