Public health messages from a sports nutritionist

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend a seminar from a leading researcher in Sports Nutrition. Dr Yannis Pitsiladis is a well published sports nutritionist specialising in the diets of African athletes. We were let into the secrets of the success of African athletes and learned a huge amount about their diets and training regimes.

Sports nutrition is not a well funded area – money goes, quite rightly, to life-saving research. However, I took an important public health message from Dr Pitsiladis’ seminar, involving inactivity in children. Dr Pitsiladis’ work regularly took him to Africa, in particular Kenya where he spent a lot of time researching activity levels in children as well as athletes. In Western countries we struggle to meet the recommended 60 minutes a day of moderate exercise but in Kenya no child observed went under 100 minutes of exercise every day. Quite obviously, obesity is minimal, almost non-existent and no, it is not because the children are starving. The schools researched were in thriving communities in the heart of the tea and coffee-growing regions, with fertile lands and widespread farming. It is true that transport systems are poor and diets are very different in that ‘unhealthy’ food is just not available but the children themselves have a different attitude. They have a willingness to learn and a hunger to succeed, which in fact may be why African athletes thrive in their sports – their attitude to training and competition.

Schools are crammed full of pictures and drawings of olympians and athletes from their villages and what child could not be inspired every day coming to school and seeing this. It pushes them to run faster and run harder so their picture may one day be on the wall.

It is not just excessive eating that is leading to obesity but also inactivity. We need to get on our bikes, out to the parks, up our mountains and back to the gyms to show children just how much fun it can be!

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