Bengaluru: The fitness and BMI levels of school children in India–regardless of age, gender, region or city—continue to be far from satisfactory, according to the 7th Annual School Health and Fitness Study 2016 by EduSports. It revealed that every third child has an unhealthy BMI, and only schools with more than three sessions of physical education has fitter children.
The nationwide studycovered 1,69,932 children in the age group of 7 to 17 years in 326 schools across 86 cities in 26 states. The study was built into the co-scholastic curriculum of schools for the academic year 2015-2016. It assessed fitness parameters, like sprint capacity, flexibility, lower and upper body strength, abdominal strength and body mass index (BMI).
Girls are better than boys
The comparative study found that 69%girls have a healthy BMI compared to 62% boys. At least 51% girls had desired levels of flexibility versus only 45% among boys. However, boys showed stronger lower body strength than girls, while both tied scores in other fitness tests measuring abdominal strength, sprint capacity and upper body strength.
Children in metros vs non-metros
The fitness levels of children in metro and non-metro cities were similar. Only 66% children in metros had a healthy BMI versus 65% in non-metros. The percentage of children with unhealthy BMI has increased from 20% last year to 33% this year. This trend needs to be reversed to have a healthy generation of children.
An unfit generation in the making
A third of all children in all five regions have unhealthy BMI scores: 37% (Central), 36 % (East), 39% (North), 37% (South) and 34% (West). The weighted scores for these regions across all fitness parameters do not vary a lot. This reinforces the view that children across the country show lack of fitness.
|Body Mass Index (BMI)|
What is the solution?
Intervention is required to reverse the increasing levels of inactivity and sedentary lifestyles of children. Study showed that schools have a clear advantage over homes, clubs or academies. Schools have necessary resources, like safety-compliant infrastructure, trained teachers, a dedicated time for sports and a healthy environment to build team spirit and competition. Schools provide the best avenue for a replicable intervention to get children more play time. The study revealed that schools with a sustainable, structured sports and physical education sessions have improved children’s fitness.
Sports sustains fitness
The study tracked the BMI scores of primary, middle and high school children over three years from the time a structured sports program was introduced. (See graph). At least, 65% primary and high school children improved their BMI score compared to 59% three years ago. While the corresponding numbers for middle school children went up from 61% to 70%. More number of girls achieved proper BMI scores, with an overall improvement in fitness levels of boys and girls year-on-year.
Playtime improves health
According to researchers, 60 minutes of reasonably rigorous playtime daily is ideal for a growing child to be healthy and fit.In the second part of the study, EduSports compared data of schools with 3 or more PE periods per week versus schools with lesser than 3 PE periods. A total of 1,10,076 children from 245 schools in 86 cities were surveyed. All the schools ran a structured sports program for at least 9 months.
The study found children with more than 3 PE sessions per week were fitter than children with lesser number of PE sessions. See graph. Comparison of 3+ PE sessions vs less than 3 PE sessions showed wide difference in: Upper body strength (79% vs 64%), lower body strength (53 % vs 45%), flexibility (67% vs 55%), abdominal strength (69% vs 63%) and sprint capacity (71% vs 69%).
A sustained structured sports and physical education intervention in schools improved fitness standards. As PE periods are one of the appropriate tools to get children to play, increasing the number of PE periods from 3 to at least 5 every week is recommended.
The Way Forward
- Schools provide the best environment for a scalable and sustainable intervention to get children to play
- A long-term and robust-structured sports and physical education program in schools helps improve fitness standards
- 5+ sports periods per week improves children’s health
According to Mr. Saumil Majmudar, CEO and Co-founder, EduSports, “Children are becoming less active for environmental or interpersonal reasons. Lack of physical activity increases the risk of obesity and health-related problems in adolescence, and adulthood. We believe that schools provide the ideal environment to promote physical activity at the right age and improve fitness standards among children. The 7th Annual School Health and Fitness Study showed that schools with a structured, age-appropriate sports program witnessed a substantial improvement in health and fitness levels, compared to schools which don’t have a structured sports program. Research also showed that active children have greater attention spans and perform better academically.”