South Asian children ‘less active’ than peers

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South Asian children are less physically active than other children according to findings of research being carried out for the British Heart Foundation.

Asian children are more likely to spend their evenings studying, playing computer games or watching TV than playing outdoors or doing sports.

Current recommended guidelines from the Department of Health suggest that young children should be vigorously active for at least an hour a day. Ideally they should be active for a number of hours each day.

A study monitoring the activity levels of 208 children in Coventry has found that British Asian children are as active as other children while at school and during weekends. However, in the evenings, they are less likely to be playing or running around.

Of the children taking part in the study, 96 were white European, 65 were British South Asian and 47 children were from other ethnic backgrounds.

The children were aged between seven and nine. They each kept diaries and wore a physical activity and heart rate monitor for eight days at a time to collect data on their levels of activity.

“Start Quote

Certainly some parents encourage their children to be very academic and might not encourage them to be physically active.”

Dr Krystyna MatykaConsultant paediatrician

Emma Air, a research associate at Warwick University, said the findings so far indicate that children from South Asian backgrounds tend to be less active.

“It tends to be after school where the activity patterns are different.

“We’re finding no difference in their physical activity patterns at school, lunch or break. They seem to do similar amounts of activity at weekends. But it’s weekdays after school when they are less active,” she said.

‘Role models’

Dr Krystyna Matyka, a consultant paediatrician and associate clinical professor at Warwick Medical School, is leading the research.

She explained that the study used the the children’s diaries to assess what type of activities they participated in after school.

“There are cultural reasons for having other things to do in the evenings, like perhaps going to mosque.

“People have commented on a lack of effective role models for South Asian children doing lots of physical activity. Certainly some parents encourage their children to be very academic and might not encourage them to be physically active.”

Aameela, is a Year 6 student at Frederick Bird Primary School who took part in the research. She said: “After school I eat my tea, do my homework and go to the mosque.”

Kashif and Jabedul are both aged eight and are also pupils at Frederick Bird Primary School.

“I like to play on my computer,” said Kashif. “But my mum and dad like me to tidy up, pray, then go outside.”

“I do my homework, and play of course on my PS3. Sometimes I go out with my mates and play football,” said Jabedul.

“My parents really care about me getting good GCSEs,” he added.

Future risks

The research has now moved into the second phase where children are monitored during exercise. In particular the researchers are looking at heart rate variability. Primary results suggest that South Asian children react differently to exercise.

Dr Matyka said: “We are measuring how the heart responds in different situations. It should go faster at some points and slower at others.

“We have found that the response rates in South Asian children is lower than children from white European backgrounds, which suggests there is an increased metabolic risk. Whether that does mean in 20 or 30 years time they will develop a heart attack is very difficult to say.”

It is well documented that South Asian adults are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease than the general population because of genetic risk factors and lifestyle.

However, Ellen Mason, of the British Heart Foundation, is concerned that people think heart disease only affects older generations of Asians.

“We know that South Asian children are more likely to get heart disease than any other ethnic group in the UK. That’s why we are desperate to reduce this inequality because we don’t want to see another generation die young from heart disease.”

“It might be to do with behaviour that carries on within families. It does very much affect people who are second or third generation Asian.”

The charity plans to use the findings to encourage Asian parents to be better role models when their children are young.

Some Asian families are already adopting a more active lifestyle.

Faatima, aged eight, said: “My mum goes to the gym in the mornings. She used to play badminton as a kid, and she makes us play badminton in the park.”

The study is expected to be completed in early 2012 , after more research to determine how the health and fitness levels of South Asian children can be improved.

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