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AP Photo/Kevin Frayer
India’s future generation is lagging in health and fitness.

Almost half of India’s school children are either too fat or too thin

By Shelly Walia

Two-fifths of India’s school children, aged between seven and 17, are unfit.

In terms of body mass index (BMI), which the World Health Organization defines as a weight-for-height index, 40% school children are either underweight or overweight or obese, a new survey reports.

Out of this, 35% of girls demonstrated an unhealthy BMI score as compared to 41% of boys. Almost 24% of boys and 21% of girls are overweight, as compared to 17% of boys and 14% of girls who are underweight.

More than 100,000 students participated in the annual study of school health and fitness, conducted by Bangalore-based EduSports, a sports initiative to make physical education a part of the school curriculum in India. More than 280 schools in 85 different Indian cities across 23 states were involved.

The survey also measured school children’s fitness on various parameters—endurance (or aerobic capacity), sprint (or anaerobic capacity), flexibility, lower body strength (LBS), upper body strength (UBS) and abdominal strength.

All these were calculated within the school hours—and the findings were straightforward: the health of Indian children is affected due to a lack of physical activities and outdoor games. Much of this is attributed to dwindling play areas and parks, and an increase in alternative sources of entertainment including electronic gadgets.

Close match

School children in metros and non-metros demonstrated little variations in different fitness parameters. While kids in metros fared better in endurance, sprint and abdominal, in non-metros they demonstrated greater flexibility, and lower and upper body strength.

Three hours of exercise

School children lagging in health and fitness parameters also suffer from skewed physical and psychological development, the study adds. Yet, only three hours of physical education in schools every week can make a small, but important, difference.

A controlled study conducted on over 81,000 children across 287 schools who underwent more than three hours of classes per week over nine months showed a marginal improvement of 1% in BMI levels. However, there was a greater improvement of 4% in their lower body strength and 5% in case of upper body strength.