KICKING THE KILOS: ARE YOUTH PROGRAMS THE KEY TO A HEALTHIER FUTURE?

KICKING THE KILOS: ARE YOUTH PROGRAMS THE KEY TO A HEALTHIER FUTURE?

Simone Norrie & Kelsey Smith

Dubbo, Orange, Bourke and Broken Hill have been dubbed the Central West’s most plump local towns, with over 70 per cent of the population fitting in to the overweight or obese bracket.

According to a study by Roy Morgan Research, obesity is a weighty issue across the region, and local AFL Development Officer Carmen Amor believes education is the key to curbing the trend.

“It starts with our young locals, because it’s a cultural thing, and it is a big problem. We need to change the mindset of kids as they grow up to include a healthy lifestyle,” Miss Amor said.

Studying a Bachelor of Exercise Science (Rehabilitation) at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, Miss Amor hails from the small town of Parkes – and she said she has seen first hand the lack of knowledge the youngest members of our community have when it comes to living an active lifestyle.

AFL Development Officer Carmen Amor is working to educate local students on how to lead an active lifestyle  Image: Kelsey Smith

AFL Development Officer Carmen Amor is working to educate local students on how to lead an active lifestyle
Image: Kelsey Smith

“I’ve really found through my work that most kids think it is normal to go home and play video games…education should have started a long time ago, and it’s as much about drilling it in to the kids at a young age rather than just blaming the parents,” she said.

Miss Amor is part of a team of AFL NSW/ACT officers who run programs across the region, working with local primary schools to teach students the basics of AFL – and the benefits of an active lifestyle.

“The high percentage of overweight children, teenagers and adults, is a cultural thing…youth programs like our AFL sessions are working slowly to break the stereotypes, and the acceptance that there is a large percentage of people who are overweight,” she said.

“We allocate an hour after school each week to the kids, and this shows them how important it is to take time out to do exercise, which will hopefully turn this trend around in the future.”

Along with helping to reduce the rate of overweight youth, Miss Amor said youth sports programs also benefit the mental health of the students.

“Exercise releases endorphins, and it’s about changing the norm and highlighting the use of exercise as a ‘feel good’ for our younger locals. I honestly believe that the rates of depression and other illnesses will skyrocket if we don’t change the views on exercise right now,” she said.

“All it takes with kids is to spark their interest, so we need to start young if we are going to truly make a difference.”

Miss Amor said the program is tailored to suit all students regardless of their athletic ability, or previous sporting experiences.

“We find that there are students who come to our program who are not the most coordinated or sport-oriented children, and many do not feel comfortable playing competitive sports,” she said.

“What our program provides is the opportunity for these kids – rather than playing video games after school – to become more active instead of shying away from sporting activities.”

While Miss Amor believes programs such as those run by AFL NSW/ACT in the Central West are still scarce around the region, she says the local media has a strong voice in how youth view a healthy lifestyle.

“The rural media can be just as guilty as conforming to these stereotypes as the mainstream media…While we try to promote a family-friendly, participation style program, the focus on male-dominated, competitive sports still seem to gain the most print space and air time,” she said.

“Parents might be taking their kids to sport on a Saturday, but are they paying attention during the week? Taking the whole family for a walk, or playing some backyard cricket is getting back to basics, but it is necessary if we want to turn this trend around.”

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