Healthy living starts in school

The new programme in government schools is a first step towards a better future for all

Government-run schools have introduced courses on fitness, health and well-being, diet, nutrition and physiology. Pawan Singh / The National
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Our dire state of health and well-being is well-documented. The number of type 2 diabetes cases is high by world standards, and rising daily, with a 35 per cent increase from 2014 to 2015. We have an obesity epidemic, and this is leading to high rates of cardiovascular disease and other lifestyle-related illnesses. The reasons behind this are complex – starting with the change in living standards brought about since the discovery of oil – but the solution is simple. We must pay closer attention to diet and exercise.

The authorities are aware of the issues and have responded by investment in world-class healthcare facilities. But that only tackles the symptoms; the cure relies on changing our lifestyles. Even habits acquired relatively recently are hard to shake. It is convenient and cheap to purchase high-calorie foods and to drive in air-conditioned comfort rather than walk or cycle around the city. And that is where the next step comes in: providing not just the facilities for exercise and the opportunities to buy healthy food, but to educate people about the need to pursue a healthier lifestyle. And, of course, effective education starts at a young age.

That is why we welcome the initiative to introduce courses on fitness, health and well-being, diet, nutrition and physiology into government-run schools. The curriculum, which will be delivered in three cycles at different stages of a student’s school life, will include an English-language component so pupils can read the labels on food products to determine whether they are healthy. It will also look at new ways to get children moving – an acknowledgement that existing physical exercise programmes are not engaging enough. Fitness can, and should, be fun.

This programme should be viewed a part of holistic solution that goes beyond the classroom and playground, so healthy habits can “trickle up” to parents, extended families and entire communities. It also needs support from the health industry, including medical providers and insurance companies. A truly healthy, and happier, society is attainable if we all work together.