Report card scores children’s health

The Healthy Active Kids SA 2018 Report Card, which was released last week, presents the most current research on physical activity and nutrition of South African children aged 3 to 18 years old.

Sedentary behaviour and the intake of fast foods, snacks and sugar-sweetened beverages are threatening the health of South Africa’s children. In a nutshell, children need to move more and cut down on their intake of snacks and fizzy cooldrinks.

When the Healthy Active Kids South Africa 2018 Report Card, which presents the most current research on physical activity and nutrition of South African children aged 3 to 18 years old, was released last week, these categories were scored the lowest.

The 2018 Report Card is the fifth one produced locally, with others having been published in 2007, 2010, 2014 and 2016, and is one of 50 produced globally.

The South African research was co-led by UCT’s Dr Vicki Lambert and Wits University’s Dr Cathy Draper, supported by a scientific advisory group panel comprising 28 other academics and content experts representing 14 institutions and organisations in the fields of physical activity, nutrition, media and marketing. Grades are given for a range of indicators relating to physical activity and nutrition that tell us how well our children and adolescents are doing in these categories.

According to the report, sedentary behaviour, which was scored an F, was largely driven by the amount of “screen time” children were engaging in, with many children being found to be spending “just over three hours on screens every day” – excluding their school work.

“Further research, focused on adolescents, showed that “screen-based social networking was linked to increased risky behaviours”.

Another category which scored an F was that related to the intake of snacks, sugar-sweetened beverages, salt and fast food. “In (a) 12-country study, South African children had the highest intake of sugar-sweetened beverages of all countries, with children in the lowest income groups being more likely to have unhealthy diet than children in the highest income groups,” said the report.

Added to this, said Dr Draper: “Of the 12 countries, South Africa is doing the worst in terms of children doing physical education at school. Thirty-two percent of them don’t.”

There were also some categories which saw their scores downgraded, among them food security, advertising and the media and school tuckshops.

According to the research, about half of school-going children in South Africa regularly buy food at school and don’t take a packed lunch – further highlighting the importance of tuck shops stocking healthy offerings for pupils.

When it comes to physical activity, the research shows that levels of activity are higher among younger children, and that “young South Africans seem to do better on the physical activity front when there are others involved”, which emphasises the importance of making community-based activities available to children.

However, in many areas, safety was a key concern.

At the launch of the report card on Tuesday, San Souci Girls’ School principal, Ruschda O’Shea, said it was important that schools be used as a platform for promoting physical activity and emphasised the importance of teachers being properly empowered and trained to do so.

For the full report, go to

Parents and care-givers, we’d love to know how you plan to keep your children active this holiday, and how you ensure they don’t eat too many snacks and fast foods. You can email your comments to