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Jozi Kids Get Moving with 50-Hour Sports Challenge

Health of the Nation 50-Hour Challenge  01 - rope skipping
A physically active life is the message behind the 2016 Ascendis Health of the Nation 50 Hour Sports Challenge, which will be taking place in Johannesburg from Friday 22 to Sunday 24 April, 2016 during Physical Education Month.

“The Challenge faces head-on the reality that if South African kids don’t become more active, they will be facing shorter life expectancy and serious health problems.” So says Brad Bing of youth sports development agency Sporting Chance, the organisers of the programme.

Now in its tenth year, the Ascendis Health of the Nation programme in partnership with the newly established Disney Healthy Happy Learning programme will educate 15 000 young learners from disadvantaged communities on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. The programme is three-phased:  a sports challenge that aims to keep a ball in motion for 50 hours, followed by an educational road show with post follow-up school interventions thereafter.

Children compete in up to 15 different indoor and outdoor sport and recreational activities over the course of the three days. They are exposed to a huge variety of sports, including cricket, tennis, hockey, rounders, table tennis, netball, soccer, rope skipping, ultimate frisbee, athletics and rugby.

“Lifestyle habits are entrenched by the age of 12, which is why health and fitness habits must be established in childhood,” says Bing. “If you’re not playing sport or leading an active and healthy life by then, the chances are that sport and physical activity will not feature in your adult life,” he said.

Physical education scores low in the school system

According to a study one of the settings considered as the best investment in physical activity, (by the Global Advocacy for Physical Activity Group) is a ‘whole of school’ approach. This recognises the school as the perfect environment in which to teach children the skills, knowledge and habits for life-long healthy and active living. Yet at schools level, this is not fully happening.

The study also revealed that less than two-thirds of children participate in weekly physical education classes. The average time spent in physical education classes is 30-40 minutes per week, and in urban primary schools, 34% of 10-year-old primary school students do not have physical education during the week. It also shows that South Africa has a ‘D’ score when it comes to children’s physical activity, meaning we are succeeding with less than half of our children. The country’s overall score, which takes into account nutrition as well as physical education, has slid from ‘C’ to ‘D’ in 2014.

Childhood obesity sprinting ahead

The Challenge originated after a 2004 study revealed that an alarmingly large percentage of South African children were already facing probable obesity-related health problems. “It was obvious that we needed to kick-start an awareness of the importance of exercise and living a healthy lifestyle, which we hoped would grow into a passion for sport and physical activity,” said Bing.

Twelve years later and this is still particularly relevant in light of alarming global statistics about the world’s obesity epidemic released recently from a study in The Lancet.  “We have transitioned from a world in which underweight prevalence was more than double that of obesity to one in which more people are obese than underweight,” according to Majid Ezzati, Imperial College London professor and the study’s senior author. In four decades, global obesity has more than tripled among men and doubled among women. Furthermore, if current trends continue, 18% of men and 21% of women will be obese by 2025.

Experts have long linked childhood obesity with the long-term health problems of adult obesity, but in 2015, magnetic resonance imaging used as part of an American study detected thickened heart muscles and increased muscle mass in the heart’s left ventricle — both signs of heart disease — in children as young as eight. “This was surprising and alarming to us,” said Linyuan Jing, the study’s lead author. “At such a young age, [children have] already developed clear evidence of heart disease.”

Furthermore, there is much concern about the rising number of cases in South Africa of type 2 diabetes in children. “Before, it was very rare to find a child with type 2 diabetes, which is why it has always been called ‘late onset diabetes’,” said Margot McCumisky of Diabetes SA. “But now, increasingly, with more and more children being overweight, we are seeing this disease affecting them.”

“In South Africa, we have a serious obesity problem, which is related to unhealthy diets and a lifestyle that is becoming increasingly sedentary,” said Bing. “Individuals need to up their metabolic rate with daily exercise to address obesity and the Challenge is a fun and relevant way to intervene in this downward slide, waking kids up to the fact that a healthy lifestyle can be fun.”

Partnering with the City of Johannesburg,  title sponsors Ascendis Health and media partners SAfm and SuperSport Let’s Play, Sporting Chance aims to inspire a lifelong passion for exercise and sport through the programme. School children taking part hail from various communities throughout Johannesburg, including Orange Farm, Soweto and the inner city. The 50-hour Challenge event will take place at the Southern Suburbs Sports and Recreation centre, in Rosettenville. Held in association with Sporting Chance, Ascendis Health and the City of Johannesburg, the 50-hour Challenge is the largest sporting event of its kind in the country.

“Looking after one’s health begins in childhood, and as we all know, the best way to educate children is to make learning fun,” said xxx of Ascendis Health. “This is why we are supporting the Ascendis Health of the Nation 50 Hour Sports Challenge: it’s a programme that engages, entertains and ultimately benefits youth and their extended communities in potentially profound ways, paving the way for a healthier South Africa.”

Schools or individuals wishing to participate in the Ascendis Health of the Nation 50 Hour Sports Challenge can contact Bradlyn at Sporting Chance on 021 683 7299, log on to, follow @SportinChance on Twitter and facebook

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