• Wed
  • Dec 24, 2014
  • Updated: 11:37am
NewsHong Kong

Overprotective parents partly to blame for children’s lack of fitness, academic says

Parents’ focus on academics, worries over ‘risky’ sport among reasons why Asian children lagging behind Western peers in healthy lifestyle survey, professor says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2013, 10:11am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 2:02am

Overly protective parents are partly to blame for the decline in physical fitness of Hong Kong children, who, according to a recent international study, are only half as fit as their peers in the West.

“Swimming, cycling and running are good aerobic exercises, but many Hong Kong schoolchildren just do not do them,” said Dr Lobo Louie Hung-tak, an associate professor at Baptist University’s department of physical education.

“Some parents consider swimming dangerous. Thus, many schools do not have swimming lessons to avoid receiving complaints from the parents,” he said.

Louie said parents often preferred their children to engage in “structured activities”.

“They may arrange for their children to play music and the like, because these could build up their portfolios and help them get into good schools,” he said.

A study by a team of academics from the University of South Australia on the cardiovascular fitness of children (aged between nine and 17) showed that youth today were, on average, 15 per cent less fit than their counterparts between 1970 and 2010.

Some parents consider swimming dangerous. Thus, many schools do not have swimming lessons
Dr Lobo Louie, professor

The decline in fitness was twice as much for Asian children, who were 30 per cent worse off than their peers in the 30-year period.

The research, presented last month at an American Heart Association conference in the United States, analysed 50 studies from 28 countries on the running fitness of some 25 million children.

The studies measured how fast and far the children could run in five to 15 minutes.

It found that, on average, it took today’s children 90 seconds longer to run about 1.6 kilometres than their counterparts did 30 years ago. The decline was observed in boys and girls across all ages.

The research’s lead author, Dr Grant Tomkinson, said the findings were worrying as they could indicate poorer health in adulthood. Obesity and lifestyle were contributing factors, he said.

“[The children] have the capacity to do it, but they’re less accustomed to pushing themselves at a vigorous intensity for a long period of time,” he told BBC programme Health Check.

He recommended for children to get an hour’s worth of moderately vigorous activities accumulated over the course of each day.

Baptist University’s Louie echoed Tomkinson’s views, but said: “Young people nowadays aren’t getting enough opportunities to [exercise]. Many parents don’t like their children to do sports, considering them a waste of time.”

He cited recent surveys conducted by his department, which found that 20 per cent of secondary school pupils did not know how to ride a bicycle and 47 per cent did not know how to swim.

“Young people can be fit in different ways. They can be skilful, like a tennis player. But not all types of fitness relate well to health,” Louie said.

“The most important is cardiovascular fitness, which is the ability to exercise vigorously for a long time.

“You don’t have to aim to be an Olympic star to do sports. Parents should help inspire children to develop fitness habits. Children can choose whatever activities they like.”

According to Hong Kong’s Department of Health, which has tracked obesity among primary school pupils since the 2009, the rate in the last academic year was 20.9 per cent. This was slightly less than the 21.4 per cent recorded last year-this year academic year, and 22.2 per cent the period before that.


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Children in the West are not given as much homework as those in Hong Kong; some children in the West do not have any take-home homework until Year 7. It is not so much the parents to blame but the 'pressure-cooker' educational culture of the local schooling system here in Hong Kong that is the main culprit behind less-active children in Hong Kong. The Educational Bureau should look into achieving more balance between academics and sports, and set a standard for all schools to follow. Young children given multiple subjects of homework each night cannot have enough time to develop the habit of being physically active on a regular basis. Such habits are sometimes hard to change as they grow older, which is especially the case when academics become even more demanding in secondary.
I think you have a point, but it doesn't tell the whole story. There were computer games when I was a kid in 1980s as well as TV (which was being switched off by parents who wanted their children to exercise more). Anyway, computer games are here to stay, so some other approach is needed.
Doesn't help either that most of the time the parents themselves probably never do exercise in their free time and instead just sit on the couch watching TV...
If you open your eyes a little, young adults chase for a seat on the MTR and buses, when standing for a few stops won't kill you but instead help you burn a few more calories.
Maybe try going for walks/hikes/runs once in a while, then maybe your kids might follow.
My kids are active, but often we plan to do a physical activity on Saturdays, after homework is finished, but guess what. The activity gets cancelled often because of the sheer load of homework that has to get done. This could also be considered the parents fault, since most seen to think more homework is better.... So stupid
And regular exercise helps students with learning. Um...your brain is a body organ so what you do (or don't do) with your body affects it directly. It's a no-brainer (so to speak). HK school boards need to change it regardless of what some ignorant parents want.
Try Sunday then.
Another reason for these fat kids these days is because their idea of exercise includes fidlling with their fingers on video games............back in the days when video games were not-existent, there were no such problems because kids would get out and do sports as entertainment.
It's the video games that's killing the next generation............get rid of those games and then the world will be a better place.


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