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The Active Fight against Asia’s Growing Disease Burden

Published on 19 June 2018

Even as economies become increasingly affluent, and many can now afford to feed their families, there is a nagging worry that children will grow up to be less healthy than their parents. Today’s sedentary pursuits are displacing active lifestyles, and such inactivity has been a contributing factor to growing health challenges around the world.In an interview with ARoFIIN, Andrew Hills, Associate Dean Global at the College of Health and Medicine and Professor of Sports and Exercise Science at the University of Tasmania, tells us more about the role of physical activity to combat obesity and the growing disease burden in Asia.

Why is physical activity an underutilised tool to tackle both over and undernutrition?

In recent decades, countries in the Asian region have experienced significant changes associated with increased urbanisation, mechanisation and globalisation, often referenced as the nutrition transition. Consistent with the nutrition transition have been the corresponding changes in other lifestyle behaviours, particularly declines in habitual physical activity.These declines have occurred in all settings but have been particularly pronounced in urban contexts. Reductions in physical activity alongside the increased availability of food for many has been a major factor in the increased prevalence of overweight and obesity, particularly among younger children. Unfortunately, even when food provides adequate energy, too often it is not of high nutritional quality.

What are some approaches that can be used to promote physical activity, particularly among children?

Similar to consuming adequate food, physical activity is a basic need for all children, particularly during the formative years of growth and development. Support and encouragement for physical activity among all children should be a high priority, particularly in the home, school and wider community settings.

Knowledge and education regarding the importance of physical activity is also a key ingredient so that all children can develop the motor skills necessary for meaningful engagement in physical activity. The “One Goal: Nutrition for Every Child” initiative is a good example of physical activity engagement through a common interest area such as football.

Why is it important to work collectively to influence healthy lifestyles within the population?

A collaborative approach to tackle the dual burden of malnutrition is critical – it is the responsibility of all rather than the responsibility of one sector or agency. Too often, disconnected approaches mean that economies of scale cannot be applied to solve such complex problems.

A collective and synergistic approach between the various stakeholders will help to ensure the best use of scarce resources, that a health in all approach is employed, and that all players recognise the potential strengths of a collaborative rather than individualised approach.

Learn more about the nutritional challenges facing the region in ARoFIIN’s “Tackling Obesity in ASEAN” report

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