Majority of adolescents physically inactive: WHO

By: Fatima Muneer

MUSCAT: Oman’s school going adolescents have been found to have a high prevalence of insufficient physical activity. According to the 2014 Global Status Report on Non Communicable Diseases published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the prevalence of insufficient physical activity for Oman’s school going adolescent boys aged 11-17 years is 60-79.9 per cent. Alarmingly, the figure is even higher for girls of the same age range at a whopping 90 per cent or higher.

“Social developments, industrialisation and urbanisation transitions worldwide have led to changes in public lifestyle choices and behaviour,” says Siham al Maskari, Head of Clinical Exercise and Fitness Unit at the Ministry of Health’s National Diabetes and Endocrine Centre. “Regular physical activity in childhood and adolescence improves strength and endurance, helps build healthy bones and muscles, controls weight, reduces anxiety and stress and increases self esteem,” she continues.

“All children and young people should engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes and up to several hours everyday.” Teachers shared their concerns as well with the Observer. “There’s a lack of physical activities in schools in general,” says Ruqia al Nassri, a government schoolteacher in Ibri. “Boys have a weekly sports class and most of them escape it. Girls also have such classes but there is also no commitment,” she says. “There are no spaces for physical activities in schools, no fitness clubs open during the whole year. Only summer clubs are available but they are restricted in terms of the numbers they can enroll.” Turn to P4

Al Nassri suggests that 15-20 minutes of physical activity be set aside everyday before classes begin and a variety of physical activities be available. “Sports should also be studied within the curriculum, training equipment should be provided for students and canteens should sell healthy food instead of junk ones, which affect students’ health badly.” Attitude and poor habits are other factors that contribute to this problem. “Here, many kids get annoyed by the typical morning rituals in schools then just think what about other kinds of physical activities?” says Mansoora al Wahaibi, a public schoolteacher in Barka. “Also, due to negligence in proper eating, many students faint sometimes!”

Noora al Hosni is the parent of a 16-year-old student studying in Grade 10 in a government school. “He has only one sports class every week and he doesn’t like it,” she says.

“He says it doesn’t have the kind of activities he loves. He also complains that in these sport classes, they have to play in the sun and there are no indoor spaces specialised for this purpose.”

“What I can do as a parent is take my kids to the beach and let them play what they want. Unlike interior wilayats, Muscat has some places for exercise yet their numbers are limited and don’t target ages below 18,” sighs Al Hosni.

“New technologies that are widely spread amongst youth nowadays are affecting their lives. They are absorbed into them to the extent that they neglect themselves.” Al Maskari feels that there is also a lack of knowledge on the importance of physical activity in adolescents for their health and well-being.“They think only overweight and obese adolescents should be active and that is not true. Everyone should be active despite his or her body weight and it’s not necessary to only join fitness clubs to do this,” she says. One way of tackling such wrong ideas is to appropriately promote the concept of physical activity for this group. The physical activity expert also believes that parents and the greater community share a responsibility in this issue. “There’s a lack of encouragement within the family as they consider studying a priority in order for the student to perform well at school,” opines Al Maskari. “But studies have proven that being active improves a student’s performance and behaviour in school. There needs to be efforts to change such perceptions.”

Urban planning should also be sensitive to easing this problem, feels Al Maskari. “There should be more recreational spaces, safe walking and cycling paths,” she says.

“Current transportation policies do not support pedestrians as it’s not safe to cycle or walk when public transportation is not widely available,” says Al Maskari. “City planners should consider healthy modes of travel which will then be reflected on the behaviour of adolescents.”


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