Physical Inactivity, Big Fat Problem

The Education Ministry has prioritized the issue of student obesity and has drawn programs to address the problem, including intra and inter school sport competitions, increasing PE hours in weekly curriculums, and eliminating junk food from school cafete
Over 21% of the student population is obese. Over 21% of the student population is obese.

The number of hours allocated to physical education (PE) in school curriculums across the country is close to global standards, said Mehrzad Hamidi, physical education and health deputy at the Health Ministry.

“Physical education in primary schools accounts for 99 minutes of the weekly curriculum, and 90 minutes in middle school,” he said at the Second International Conference of Public Sport that concluded on Monday in Tehran.

“Based on comparative studies, the average period of PE in the world is 97 minutes per week for elementary schools, and 99 minutes for middle schools,” he was quoted as saying by ILNA.

The time allocated for PE in high schools is expected to increase to 90 minutes from the current 60 for 11th grade (penultimate grade) in the next academic year (begins September). A full hour per week will also be added to the curriculum of high school seniors who didn’t previously have PE.

“Raising knowledgeable, empowered, active, and joyful students is a vision of the Education Ministry, and we have a responsibility to train students with physical literacy and healthy lifestyles,” Hamidi stressed.

Over 21% of the student population is obese, he had said earlier at 5th general assembly of Student Sports Federation, warning that if current trends continue, “Iran will face a tsunami of non-communicable diseases among the next generation.” 

The ministry has prioritized the issue of obesity in students, and has drawn multiple programs to address the problem, including intra and inter school sport competitions, increasing physical education hours in weekly curriculums, and eliminating junk food from school cafeterias.

Between 2000 and 2013, the number of hours dedicated to PE saw a declining trend worldwide. It dropped from 116 minutes per week in 2000 to 97 minutes in 2013 for elementary schools, and reduced from 143 minutes per week in 2000 to 99 minutes in 2013 for middle school.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that “not a single country saw declining obesity in that period.” 

  Global Surge in Obesity

The worldwide surge in obesity rivals war and smoking in terms of the global economic burden it imposes. Obesity is no longer a concern solely of higher-income, developed countries. Its prevalence has risen in all regions, including in low-income countries. 

The World Health Organization estimates 1.9 billion overweight people, of whom a third are obese. This involves social and economic costs that society can ill afford to bear.

A FAO report in 2013 ‘State of Food and Agriculture’ noted that the social burden due to overweight and obesity has doubled over the past two decades. The cumulative cost of all non-communicable diseases, for which overweight and obesity are leading risk factors, were estimated to be about $1.4 trillion in 2010.

“Countries such as Bulgaria, Slovenia, Spain, England, and France are among those that have launched extracurricular sport activities for students on top of PE classes,” said Hamidi.

Ali Majdara, head of Public Sport Federation, said government effort has increased the tendency for public sport from 10% to 21%.

“The increasing trend is expected to continue until 2025,” he said.

The 3-day conference discussed past achievements in the field as well as future plans for sports and public physical education in the third millennium. A number of guests from countries including South Korea, Australia, Germany, Finland, Spain, Italy, and France were also present.

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