Parents have expressed concern at the disturbing childhood obesity rate in the Kingdom and a lack of gyms available for children.
Many parents think that fitness classes in schools may tackle the obesity epidemic among children.
Childhood obesity rates are increasing in developing countries, but they are highest in the Middle East, stated a recent study conducted by Sameer Al-Ghamdi of the Department of Family Medicine and Primary Health Care at King Abdulaziz Medical City's National Guard Health Affairs in Riyadh.
The study revealed a 23.1-percent rate of overweight children, with 9.3 percent of the child population between 5 and 18 years of age deemed obese and 2 percent morbidly obese.
“These kids need to get rid of the extra energy they have,” said Daniel Khalil, a teacher and head of extra-curricular activities at Dar Jana International School.
“We have an indoor gym for our students at Dar Jana, which is as big as an indoor playground, for sports such as basketball, dodge ball and other fitness exercises.”
“The Kingdom needs to introduce gym classes as a subject in schools just like schools in the US and other developed countries,” said Amna Darwish, a Saudi mother.
“Children are becoming more obese because of the sedentary lifestyle they lead in the Kingdom. They do not play outdoor games. This is especially true for girls. Children do little more than surf the Internet and watch television.”
“Schools do not correctly train students to exercise although many schools in the Kingdom teach physical education as a subject. Instead, they let the children do whatever they wish,” says Zaina Sami, another Saudi parent. “P.E. is essentially a ‘resting period’ for lethargic and obese children. They just sit around doing nothing.”
Sami stresses that gym classes are an added advantage to obese children since there are few kids’ gyms in Saudi Arabia. Schools with regular exercise sessions would help to combat the overweight dilemma. “Increasing the amount of time schoolchildren spend in gym class reduces the probability of becoming.”
Samia, the mother of an 11-year-old overweight boy, said her son’s everyday activities revolve around going to school, the television and the laptop. “My son continuously sits in front of the television and laptop and munches on snacks all the time. It had never occurred to us that this would become such a disturbing problem. We now realize how hard it is to change his habits and we want to do something about it before it is too late.”
The lack of children’s gyms and high membership costs have evoked concern among parents. Gym rates vary from SR750 to SR1,500 a month, which is too pricy for many parents.
“I think schools need to make gym class a routine subject, just like Science or Math,” said Basma El-Karim, an Egyptian parent and doctor by profession.
“This will help obese students tackle their weight issues and lose the extra weight, while also helping students who are in a normal weight range stay fit and maintain their weight.”
El-Karim says that the very few fitness centers for children in the Kingdom are too expensive. This leaves parents without options. “The Kingdom only focuses on gyms for the men, but what about women and children? Don't they deserve to be healthy?” said El-Karim.
“You can only be healthy when you exercise regularly and watch what you eat.”