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Watch your Weight Please

Weight is a growing issue as sixth national fitness survey begins. Physical education or PE for short – takes a back seat to exam results for many parents, a fact experts say is potentially creating China’s unhealthiest generation.

As the country starts its sixth nationwide survey on the overall condition of students, most predict it will simply reinforce the belief that the number of unfit and obese children continues to soar.

Results of the last survey five years ago were not easy reading, with dramatic declines seen in almost all age groups in all four events.

However, worse news was to come in 2009, when the Report on Child Nutrition and Health co-authored by researchers with the National Committee for the Well-being of Youth revealed China had 12 million overweight children, roughly 7 percent of the global total.

In Beijing alone, the number of overweight primary and middle school students hit 19.5 percent last year, up 1.2 percentage points, according to the central government’s 2009 White Paper on Sanitation and Health.

The simplest explanation is arguably the lack of time young people today spend exercising. Naturally, China’s exam-obsessed education system is taking much of the blame for the deterioration in students’ conditions. “It’s the root reason,” said Sun Yunxiao, deputy director of the China Youth and Children Research Center. “The emphasis is on test scores, not physical well-being. Pupils are being assigned too much homework, leaving no time for exercise.”

Health and education experts also criticize the increasing reliance on television, the Internet and games consoles, which many describe as “easy alternatives to exercise”.

Before the widespread introduction of television 20 years ago, students used to indulge in outside activities and sport, but all that has changed.

Today, the three favorite things for young people to do is chat or play games online, listen to music and watch television, said Wu Jian, director of the CNIER’s physical, health and arts education center, who is also a member of the panel responsible for organizing and analyzing the 2010 national physical condition survey.

In the past decade, the average weight of Beijing students aged 7 to 18 has increased faster than the average height, reported the 2009 White Paper on Sanitation and Health.

In 2007, the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council jointly issued a notice on strengthening physical education in schools and improving the condition of children. The regulations require primary and middle schools to organize one-hour group exercise sessions on school days when there is no PE class.

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