Fighting Obesity with ‘Let’s Play’ Initiative

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Obesity has become a serious concern to the world and the number of deaths resulting from this condition is becoming alarming. According to the World Health Organisation, world obesity has tripled since 1975 and as at 2016, over 340 million children and adolescents between ages 5-19 were overweight and obese. Scary data but sadly true.

Experts have blamed the high rate of obesity in children on junk food, modern technology and the lack of exercise or bodily movement. Children today have become so attached to computer games and the internet and have neglected the good old-fashioned way of playing football and running around in the parks as well as on the field. A survey on television penetration and the availability of cable TV shows that more people, especially children would rather plant themselves in front of the TV or computer all day than go out to play with their peers.

Even communication has been limited to chats and text messages via mobile devices and computers. It is not strange to see a group of friends, who are supposed to be engaging each other in conversation, completely fixated on their mobile phones, each in his own world and barely saying a word to each other. Excessive addiction to computers and sitting in one position for long has been linked to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, bad eyesight, breathing problems such as asthma, joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort and even early death in children. It is a major cause of bad social skills and a breakdown of communication between children and their parents.

The wellbeing of a nation is dependent on the health of its citizens. A healthy nation is a wealthy nation and all efforts must be put in place to fight obesity; the new scourge that is silently killing adults and children alike. Some parents have attributed their reluctance to allow their wards to go out and play to security concerns and the high-level of distrust in the society. Regardless of these concerns, body movement and exercises are very important to the proper development and wellbeing of the child.

This is the motivation behind MultiChoice’s Let’s Play initiative, a programme under its Corporate Social Investment policy. One of the major objectives of the initiative is to encourage children to come out, run around and play with other children. In this way, the children will have fun exercising and playing with one another. According to Supersport’s General Manager, Felix Awogu, the company to use its driving philosophy, which is football, to reach out to children and encourage healthy living among them, conceived this initiative.

“If you look at the current situation in Nigeria, a lot of children are becoming obese and suffering from diseases typical to adults. So, our strategy is to give children soccer balls and get them to engage and play with other children in a soccer game, thereby reaching out to even more children. To date, the Let’s Play initiative has given out over 10,000 soccer balls and have reached out to over 2 million children in Nigeria,” Awogu said.

The Let’s Play initiative has been endorsed by football legends like ex-Super Eagles player, Victor Ikpeba, who also doubles as the ambassador for the initiative. Ikpeba among other sport enthusiasts has motivated so many children in a number of communities where the children have been trained in various sporting activities as well as football. This initiative has been activated in a number of communities in Edo, Kwara, Ogun, Anambra and Lagos states, with endorsements from the state governors.

Recently, MultiChoice Nigeria, for the second time, brought the English premier league trophy to Nigeria and facilitated the attendance of premier league legend, Austin Jay Jay Okocha. During the Let’s Play clinic at the Legacy pitch in National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, the children’s excitement was palpable at seeing the premier league trophy live. They also ran around the pitch and played with the iconic Jay Jay, Victor Ikpeba and other football coaches. The children, between ages eight-15 years, were drawn from various primary schools in Lagos.

Speaking at the venue of the clinic, Physical Education teacher of the Ostra Height College, Ago Palace Way, Lagos, Agboola Temidayo, said the initiative was a noble one worth emulating by other brands in Nigeria. According to Temidayo, children had the tendency to remain indoors watching video games or playing with their mobile devices. “As the Physical Education teacher, I am so happy the children are playing and we encourage parents to allow their children to come out whenever there is a clinic such as this anywhere,” he enthused.

One of the strategies employed by MultiChoice is the use of ex-internationals and football legends as mentors to the children. Seeing on-screen legends in real time goes a long way to motivate children to aspire to be sports heroes, while taking exercising and sporting activities seriously.

Ikpeba said the Let’s Play initiative highlighted the importance of sports and the need for children to play. He recalled his childhood days when he would go out to play street soccer with his friends until he realised his dreams of becoming a football star. With the health risks associated with childhood obesity, parents are encouraged to allow their children develop healthy lifestyles and embrace active sporting activities, which helps to build the physical body and character.

Said Ikpeba: “This initiative is not a talent hunt. Its goal is to encourage children to come out and have fun, while exercising their bodies. At the end of it all, they go home with soccer balls and nice gifts as encouragement to continue on a healthy path.”

Childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century and overweight children are likely to stay obese until adulthood, developing some of the non-communicable disease outlined earlier on. Programmes like the Lets Play initiative by MultiChoice Nigeria should be greatly encouraged to assist families to fight obesity, thereby giving their wards healthy lifestyles that will stay with them for life. Indeed, a healthy nation is a wealthy nation.