Schools get kids in shape, literally

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Schools get kids in shape, literally

A typical elementary school during summer vacation is supposed to be deserted and quiet as a tomb. But at Seoul Sinseo Elementary School, music blasts out of a dance studio, and the thump of foot-falls are heard on a weekday at 9 a.m.

In the studio, twenty-four sixth-grade students are working out and learning miss A’s “Bad Girl, Good Girl.” They work the song for an hour, sweating for their efforts.

The dance session is a part of a year-round program designed to combat childhood obesity by the Seoul Office of Education.

Called “Health Class,” the program provides a one-hour work-out or dance session each week, even during vacations, for students on the brink of obesity - or over it. Attendance is voluntary.

The program is increasingly popular among students. It was launched in 2007 and 1,000 students at 50 primary schools took part. Over the years, it has continuously grown and now involves 110 schools, including middle schools and high schools, and more than 2,000 students joined this year.

“Once a week isn’t enough,” Sinseo student Han Sang-kyu said. “I would like it if there were more chances to work out and also learn about obesity.” Han said the activities he participated in were “fun.”

Health experts said more programs like this are needed, given the rise in obesity in Korea. Cases of obese students are increasing at a 1 percent rate annually because students are taking in more calories but exercising less. A rising obesity rate is very serious because 80 to 85 percent of obese youths continue to be obese as adults and can develop various diseases such as diabetes, heart problems and respiratory disorders.

Experts said society’s prejudice about obesity also hurts sensitive children, leading to social problems.

“It is difficult for students in Korea to work out on a daily basis,” said Kim Soo-hyeon, a sports instructor Sinseo elementary school hired for the program this year. “Students in higher grades have no other choice but to go to private institutes [to get into good universities].”

The programs are based on diet and exercise. Detailed schedules are drawn up by school nurses, PE teachers or private sports instructors like Kim. Normally, each school enrolls about fifteen obese students.

A sophomore at a high school in Seoul, who only wanted to be identified by his surname Kim, said he was obese when entering middle school. “I wish there were these kinds of programs when I was in elementary school,” he said.

Instructor Kim said many children showed determination to stay fit and healthy, but said the programs need to be augmented to be more effective.

“There is a need for diverse programs for children to stay fit enjoyably,” Kim said.

“We should break from the ‘boys do soccer, girls do dance’ attitude and broaden the programs.”

*With staff reporter MoonGwang-lip.


By Seong Hayoung, Shin Donghoon [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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