Feature Article

As a local resident walked past Duncan McKinnon Reserve, they were pleased to see the development of the new sports pavilion. Only the framework could be seen but it marked the progress of Glen Eira Council’s mission to upgrade parks & sporting facilities across its suburbs.

Construction of the new pavilion began last year and completion of the project is expected in March of next year. Its conclusion will mark the second building constructed for sport activities by the Glen Eira Council in three years. Cr. Neil Pilling, Greens Councillor for the city of Glen Eira, has been behind the project at Duncan McKinnon from the beginning. “It’s been quite a long last four years, quite intensive, because we’ve approved all the funding and design, and the leg work for all the major stages.”

Glen Eira council has undertaken the task of upgrading all its facilities, putting in $2 million each year into a pavilion building fund. “[We’re] hoping to modernise the facilities…we’re going to have great facilities for the future.” The first order of business was prioritising the projects, “it [Duncan McKinnon Reserve] was the most in demand and the most used park in the municipality.”

The pavilion was primarily used by Glenhuntly Athletics and Caulfield and District Netball Association (CDNA) but also catered for the cricket and soccer clubs, along with school carnivals held at the athletics track. The council noticed that junior sport was booming and that their “first priority was to build a new pavilion to cater for that growing demand.”

The importance that these sporting facilities bring to the community should not be underestimated. Today’s generation of kids are part of a growing trend towards childhood overweight and obesity. A study conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 2008 found that almost one quarter of Australian children were overweight or obese (aged 5-17 years old). The obesity percentage rose from 5.2% in 1995 to 7.5% in 2008. Those numbers are expected to rise in the future.

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^ Graph from Australian Bureau of Statistics

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^ Graph from Australian Bureau of Statistics

Now more than ever is it important to encourage and motivate kids to engage in outdoor activities and sport. One of the ways to buck the growing trend of overweight kids is to have the facilities to allow them to participate in sport and have good grounds to compete on.

“Once you build these facilities it does encourage more people to get involved because you can cater for more people,” Mr Pilling said. “It’s about having options and opportunities.”

Clubs need to keep attracting new participants and encourage young kids to be involved in outdoors activities. Netball is the second most popular sport among girls aged 5 – 14.  Allyson Musster, Vice President of CDNA, runs the netball program, Net Set Go, which involves introducing young kids to netball and giving them the skills to play. “The program is widely popular in our area. Not many netball associations offer it [Net Set Go].” The program currently has 76 kids participating.

CDNA also tries to make a fun environment for the kids once they enter the competition. “We try to promote a family environment, with barbeques and a round robin at the end of the season.” The competition has rapidly grown over the last few years, now with over 1400 members competing in the Friday and Saturday sections.

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^ Graph from Australian Bureau of Statistics

While the local councils are more focused on providing decent facilities, it is important for governments, state and federal, to establish programs that are going to motivate young kids to get outdoors and play. Childhood overweight and obesity needs to be targeted by the governments, similar to the campaigns they do for smoking, gambling or alcohol related illnesses.

This concern isn’t just for today, but for the future. The long term medical consequences for these children cannot be underestimated. Diseases and conditions connected with overweight and obesity range from heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Nicole Harris from Obesity Australia said that “people who suffer from obesity are more likely to suffer disorders such as depression and cognition problems,” adding that “this can cause consequences in their work.”

There is also the issue of costs of the health conditions created. The direct and indirect cost on the health care system is estimated anywhere between $50 billion to $60 billion annually. This is creating a growing problem on our already strained health care system. “If the problem of obesity was a rarity, the health costs could be managed,” said Nicole.

If kids of today aren’t taught the valuable lessons of eating well and maintaining physical education, they will bring those bad habits into adulthood and risk passing them on to their own kids. Nicole noted that “obesity is easier to curb in children than in adulthood.”

There is also the effect being overweight has on a child’s mental health. A study conducted by the University of Tasmania found that children who carry excess weight into adulthood have an increased risk of depression.

Physical education is not only beneficial for their health, but also their social skills. Participating in sports allows kids to learn teamwork and communication, and these skills will be valuable for them as they enter adulthood. “Kids need to avoid the ‘couch potato’ lifestyle,” Nicole said.

When the pavilion is finally finished, junior sport will continue to boom in the Glen Eira area and the benefits will be seen long into the future.

On a Saturday morning, that same local resident walked past Duncan McKinnon.  The netball courts were filled with kids participating in games.  In the background the starting gun from the athletics track filled the air.

Links:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21500955

http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features20Sep+2009

http://www.acys.info/facts/obesity/FTF_Obesity_briefing.pdf
(this link needs to be entered into Google to work)

http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/health-pubhlth-strateg-hlthwt-obesity.htm

http://www.obesityaustralia.org/general-public-fact-sheets/obesity-in-children

http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/childhood_what_can_be_done/en/index.html

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