Urban kids not getting enough exercise in Vietnam
It is accepted by everyone that children need plenty of regular physical exercise, but parents in major cities are not doing enough to ensure this, experts say.
Nguyễn Thị Lâm, deputy director of the National Institute of Nutrition, said children in urban areas do not have sufficient playgrounds and are overloaded with homework and extra classes, and their parents are too busy to pay due attention to this problem.
As a result, child obesity and attendant problems are on the rise.
Phạm Ngọc Hà, a dance teacher at the Hanoi Children’s Place, said that when most adults think about exercise, they imagine working out in the gym, running on a treadmill, or lifting weights. However, for children, exercise means playing and being physically active.
Hà, who has been teaching for almost 30 years, said kids benefit a lot from regular exercise. They are more active, have stronger muscles and bones, and leaner bodies. They are less likely to become overweight, and generally have a better outlook on life.
Boys and girls can join basic dancing classes, including ballet, aerobic and modern dancing, from when they are just five, she said. “Kids exercise when they have gym class at school, during recess, at a dance class or football practice, while riding bikes or when just playing around in the school ground.
“But it is a fact now that children have less time for physical practice at school.”
Phạm Hà An, a busy photographer and father of an 8-year-old dancing class student, said that despite his hectic schedule, he took time off two days a week to take his daughter to the Hanoi Children’s Place.
“I feel anxiety about the sedentary problem among primary school children. Being overweight in childhood has become a serious problem. Many things add to this epidemic, but a big part of it is that kids are becoming more sedentary. In other words, they’re sitting around a lot more than they used to.
“Kids and teens now spend hours every day in front of a screen (TVs, smartphones, tablets, and other devices) looking at a variety of media (TV shows, videos, movies, games). Too much screen time and not enough physical activity adds to the problem of childhood obesity.”
Nguyễn Thanh Vân, a 36-year-old shop owner in Hanoi, mother of two, said her sole focus was earning money for her children’s studies. She herself has had a difficult life because she was not well educated, so she exerts a lot of pressure on her children to study hard.
“High results at school is the success of a child,” she said. “My kids, 10 and 6, should take extra classes in Math and English after school.”
The older one, Vân, weighs 43 kg and is nearsighted. The smaller is tending towards obesity.
Prof Dương Nghiệp Chí, former director of the Vietnam Sports Science Institute, said people should have comprehensive physical and mental development during their childhood.
Besides enjoying the health benefits of regular exercise, kids who are physically fit sleep better. They’re also better able to handle physical and emotional challenges — from playing a football match to studying for a test, he said, adding that there was a difference among parents’ awareness about the importance of physical exercise for their kids.
Well educated parents living in urban areas support both physical and mental developmentof their children, but many still think the best and most important thing to do after school is to finish homework and study.
Chí said sport activities should be a focus from pre-school onwards. Parents should encourage their kids to do a variety of activities so that they can work on all three elements: endurance, strength, and flexibility.
“Replacing physical practice in the open, kids in cities are locked into rooms with TVs and smartphones because their parents have less time to play with them,” he said.
Such children gradually form sedentary habits and these habits follow them when they grow up.
Health experts say people who have exercised regularly since their childhood are at far less risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension and high blood cholesterol levels.
A recent survey by the National Institute of Nutrition showed overweight children spend twice as less time than other children on getting physical exercise.
Chi said regular exercise for about 30 minutes a day, or taking kids out of home at least once a week, riding bikes and walking will help children grow tall, have a better physique and suffer fewer illnesses.