x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Healthy kids learn from healthy adults

If physical education instructors aren't fit, who will be? But spreading the culture of fitness demands more than just tests for teachers.

Practice what you preach. In the UAE, that cliché is now associated with health and educational concerns.

As The National reported yesterday, education officials report that half of the physical education teachers employed in state schools are overweight. And around 30 per cent of those are obese.

In a society where diabetes is common, poor diet contagious and lethargy endemic, overweight gym coaches send the wrong message to children. A recent health study put the UAE population among the least physically active in the world (62 per cent of the population is inactive). So, the Ministry of Education's survey of 600 PE teachers in Dubai and the Northern Emirates is both timely and essential. Improving physical fitness culture among students at an early age is important in tackling obesity.

Officials are rightly concerned about the example unfit teachers present. And soon these instructors will be given a choice: lose weight or lose your job. The teachers' fitness progress will be tracked for three years before firm action in taken against them.

The long-term ultimatum will eventually send the right signals about health and well-being to children. But three years is a long time to wait for kids who need role models today. Teachers must be encouraged and required to exercise, and students must follow their lead. The recruitment process, often done from a distance and affected by the shortage of educators in the field, must be improved. Fitness must be tied to any system of incentives and promotion.

But more important than the image of a slim and fit teacher is the message these teachers promote. Healthy living is about much more than looking sporty. To be effective, a physical education curriculum must be paired with lessons on healthy habits, like eating well and not smoking.

Tackling obesity and physical inaction is an issue not limited to teachers. Measures need to be put in place to spur a culture of physical training, such as by creating enough fitness avenues for men and women. Many people refrain from joining gyms, for instance, due to concerns over hygiene or the lack of suitable places for women.

Active people live longer, healthier lives. Encouraging teachers to lead by example is one way to ensure that this message is heard.