A KEY component of tackling weight problems among children is increasing physical activity.
This needs to be done not just at home but in schools, specifically during the Physical and Health Education (PJK) lessons.
It bodes well that Education Minister Datuk Dr Radzi Jidin has given the green light to resume sports and co-curricular activities outside classrooms from March 21, ending two years of indoor PJK lessons for students across the nation.
The ministry also conducts various campaigns on several health and safety issues, including obesity and mental health.
Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) senior specialist consultant in paediatrics and paediatric endocrinology Assoc Prof Dr Azriyanti Anuar Zaini said reinstating co-curricular activities in school will definitely help ease the obesity problem.
But for this to happen, she said the children need to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
“Vaccinating the children will allow them to play on the field like normal, allowing them to control their weight better. “We cannot be restricting them anymore,” she added.
According to the Education Ministry Professional Circular Letter Number 8 Year 2016: Implementation of Primary School Standard Curriculum (Revised 2017) in Stages Starting Year 2017, a minimum of 48 hours are allocated per academic year for PJK in primary schools.
A total of 32 hours are dedicated towards physical education and 16 hours to health education.
Broken down, pupils are to spend 30 minutes per session on alternate days for physical education per week.
As for secondary schools, the ministry’s Professional Circular Letter Number 9 Year 2016: Implementation of Standard Secondary School Curriculum in Stages Starting Year 2017 said a minimum of 64 hours are dedicated to the subject.
Physical education is allocated 48 hours while health education 16 hours.
Physical education is studied for three hours while health education is studied for one hour every two weeks, with lessons being on alternate days of the week.
Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) Faculty of Sport Science and Coaching dean Dr Jaffry Zakaria said PJK helps students adopt an active and healthy lifestyle.
“The main goal of the subject in school is to produce students who are knowledgeable and skilled, and have positive values and attitudes to maintain physical fitness and health,” he said.
However, he said this is not confined to just being on the field.
“PJK is a broad subject and is not limited to the experience gained from activities on the school field,” he said, adding that it should also give a positive impact on a student’s physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.“However, due to the fact that this subject is not an examination subject, it is likely to be considered not important,” said Jaffry.
He also said that there needs to be adequate facilities and equipment so that this subject can be implemented properly by teachers in school.
But being physically active in school is not enough for some children who are already clinically obese and have been physically inactive for a long time.
They need medical attention and are usually treated by sports medicine specialists and dietitians.
UMMC Sports Medicine Department head Assoc Prof Dr Mohd Nahar Azmi Mohamed said there are obese children who have never done any form of physical activity prior to being referred to his clinic.
“So, to start them off on any sort of exercise programme is very challenging and programmes prescribed must be tailored to each individual,” he said.
After an assessment, Dr Mohd Nahar Azmi starts them off by increasing their movement and reducing their sedentary time.“Even if they want to play mobile games, they need to do it while walking around,” he added.
For obese patients, Dr Mohd Nahar Azmi said weight loss is not the clinic’s immediate priority.
“We want to build their physical activity levels through cardio, resistance, flexibility and balance exercises before adding intensity to target weight loss.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least an average of 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorously intense aerobic, physical activity, across the week for those aged between five and 17.
The organisation also stressed on limiting the amount of time spent being sedentary, particularly the amount of recreational screen time.
Dr Mohd Nahar Azmi said parents being active role models, together with parental support, is necessary if the child has to lose a significant amount of weight and develop a healthy lifestyle.
“We get parents involved by having them do activities with their children during the weekends or whenever they are free but it must be at least once a week,” he said.
They can even begin by walking in the park or around their housing area for at least half an hour a week, he said, suggesting that children be made to walk up and down the stairs frequently or encouraged to dance.
Children, he said, have short attention spans and the exercises must be varied to keep them motivated.
WHAT PARENTS SAYS
“Current government policies to tackle obesity among schoolchildren are not enough.
They look good only on paper. Unhealthy food options are still available like fried chicken, hotdogs and burgers in some canteens.
There needs to be better enforcement.
The government should eliminate direct and indirect marketing of unhealthy foods in school.
Schools must also not take up the offer of free products from such companies as gifts to the students for their activities.
Students should be allowed to play freely during recess time. Right now, because of fear of injury, many schools do not allow students to run and play simple games during recess. All state education directors should advise school heads to allow this.”
Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education (Magpie) chairman, Mak Chee Kin
“The government can initiate campaign after campaign but in the end, the onus is on the parents to ensure that their children lead active lives.
Parents should delegate household chores to their children so that they are not sitting down glued to their devices.
Have outdoor weekends with the children.
Take walks together. As students have been indoors much of the time for the past two years, a review of Physical and Health Education (PJK) is timely.
Students should be engaging in more outdoor activities instead of being in the classroom during PJK. PJK should be about playing sports and sweating it out.
Every student must participate. Schools should also ensure that the canteen food is less oily.
Introduce more soups and steamed or baked items.”
Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) Malaysia chairman, Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim
Malaysia has two relevant documents concerning childhood obesity — the Policy Options to Combat Obesity in Malaysia and the National Strategic Plan for Active Living 2016–2025.
There is also the School Health Programme and Adolescent Health Programme that includes a Prioritising Food Policy Options component to reduce obesity rates in 2015.
However, The Implementation of Childhood Obesity Related Policy Interventions in Malaysia — A Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) Scorecard Project noted that most of the policies on childhood obesity implementation experienced low progress.
It also found that although the body mass index (BMI) measurement for schoolchildren is carried out by the schoolteachers and recorded in the students’ health record books, no action is taken if a child is found to be overweight or obese.
“This issue should be taken into consideration and action by the Health Ministry to maximise and fully utilise the BMI data taken at the school,” the study read.
“Governmental bodies, academia, organisations and agencies in Malaysia have acknowledged that tackling NCDs is a national priority for social development. Malaysia needs to implement longer-term strategies that are affordable, practical and consistent with NCD prevention and control.”