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Here is yet another survey with sobering conclusions about the state of health of the nation: Obesity is setting in earlier than the adolescence phase for Indian children.

A pan-Indian survey on physical fitness of urban school children, conducted by the Bangalore-based EduSports found that 25 per cent of children above eight years are obese and overweight. Worse still, 18 per cent of children below seven years are obese or overweight. Since we are talking figures, let us pack this in: 23 per cent of the children between five and 14 years had a high body mass index. The abnormal BMI also reflected lower flexibility, muscle strength and endurance levels of the children.

EduSports undertook the survey to identify the overall fitness levels of children in Indian schools, believing that this would be a key indicator of the child's performance. According to Saumil Majumdar, director, Edusports, the survey was taken up to identify the gaps in physical education for children. “Our educational system favours academics over everything else, compromising the overall development of children.”

The study was conducted among 4,098 children in 21 schools across National Capital Region, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Mangalore, Lucknow, Indore, Raipur, Madurai, Mohali, Baroda, Amritsar, Panipat and Moga. This included three schools in Tamil Nadu - two in Madurai, and one school in Chennai. This was done during the 2009 – 2010 academic year.

Five factors measured

All children were in the 5-14 years age group and the factors that were measured included Body Mass Index, aerobic (walk/run) and anaerobic (sprinting) capacities, muscle strength, endurance and flexibility.

Srinivasa Rao, cricket coach, Santhome Higher Secondary School, says not all schools are keen on physical education, and even in those schools that have active sports teams, only a small percentage of the kids are involved. “Maybe 70-80 students in an entire school are keen on sports, in a group of say 2,000- 3,000 children. These other kids get one or two hours of P.T. in a week. Sports should be made compulsory for all children and the best place to do so would be the school.”

However, there is good news too. Start young is the motto: stepping up activities right from the KG classes will make a huge difference, the second phase of the study showed. “With a nine-month, in-curriculum physical education programme introduced in three schools, there was a significant improvement over the above five criteria for these children,” Mr. Majumdar says.

Post the nine-month period, they found endurance of children went up by over 17 per cent; abdominal strength increased by 37.5 per cent; the percentage of children with the right BMI increased to 67.72 per cent. As for flexibility, it went up by almost four per cent.