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Nipping Obesity in the Bud

As of February this year, it was found that 1-in-10 Malaysians under the age of 18 were either overweight or obese. As if this revelation wasn’t alarming enough, statistics also noted that the number of overweight children had doubled over the last four years, with the latest number standing in at 1 million children!

Although some parents may be quick to brush these extra kilos off as something that their children will grow out of, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Unlike some things such as teenage acne, excess weight will not stop at childhood. Overweight children are very likely to become overweight adults if nothing is done about it. And with this comes a significantly increased risk of various health issues such as reproductive problems, diabetes, heart disease and sleep apnea.

So, it begets the question: what can children and their parents do to tackle this hefty issue? Now before he sheds light on the solutions, Mark Williams who is the official coach of the Standard Chartered KL Marathon (SCKLM) 2016 says it is crucial to first recognize the causal factors.

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Weighing in on the matter

Commenting on the worrying obesity trend, Mark says, “I was recently the keynote speaker for a well-known insurance company that had released a new life assurance package whereby your premiums would be lowered if you could prove that you were keeping yourself fit and healthy. My speech, therefore, was based on the current state of health and fitness in Malaysia so I did an awful lot of research on this matter.”

“Although it’s great to see Malaysia developing so rapidly, it has unfortunately come with some side-effects – one of them being obesity. I believe diet and sedentary lifestyle play important roles in this. People are now working longer hours so they spend most of their time sitting at their desk. Also, they don’t have much time to cook their own meals so they make do with fast food, which is so readily available especially in towns and cities. They also eat rather late in the evening which is never good. When food is consumed late at night, the body is more likely to store these calories as fat. Hence, people end up gaining weight. I find that there is such a fascination with food here in Malaysia that I’ve never encountered anywhere else in the world. I notice that food is to Malaysians what the weather is to us English – a topic for small talk!”

It takes two

These unhealthy lifestyle habits subsequently spill over to children. “Children are heavily influenced by their parents. So, why not turn things around by setting a good example for your kids; don’t depend on schools to teach your kids about healthy living. You may not win your kids over at first but keep reminding them about what is healthy and what isn’t. When they grow more independent and start making their own choices, they’ll be more educated and make choices that hopefully lead to a healthier life,” he enthuses.

However, Mark is quick to add that the responsibility of instilling healthy habits in children doesn’t lie solely on the shoulders of any particular party. “All aspects of a child’s environment have an effect on the child. It’s unfair for any party, be it parents or an educational establishment to put the onus for understanding healthy living on the other. “But parents do have the greatest interaction with them and the home is essentially where decisions on healthy living are ultimately made. This is why I believe change starts with parents,” he emphasizes.

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Let’s move it, move it

Discussing the kind of physical activities he would recommend for children, Mark says, “Anything that involves fun! Get out and about, and just let your kids run. For instance, take them to a playground. Don’t underestimate what children can do at a playground. A playground is practically a gym for children so give them access to one as much as possible!”

While Mark doesn’t disagree with the idea of having exercise routines for children, he believes there can be too much of a good thing. “Children really shouldn’t have too much of a workout routine. Creating too many routines will bring on boredom – and that’s the last thing you want. What’s important is that you give kids the facilities such as a safe, open field or like mentioned earlier, a playground and they’ll never get bored. Children need to enjoy what they are doing – or else, they will get demotivated. Motivation comes from enjoyment, after all. So, have fun!”

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Starting young

Although SCKLM has always had running clinics for their adult participants, this year marks its first year organizing junior running clinics. “I try to get down to grassroots level and teach child athletes (i.e. 4-9-year-olds) some basic things through fun activities, and help the older ones (i.e. 10-14-year-olds) with their technique through drills and practice.”

Delving further into the subject, Mark says, “Kids will start off with a warm-up comprising some fun activities. This is important to get the system going. They will then be assigned a distance appropriate to their respective ages, which they will run during each session. Their time will be recorded and put up onto the SCKLM website where they will be able to track their progress. Also, there’s no need to worry about facilities. We have a superb facility all to ourselves at the Majlis Sukan Negara (MSN) track in Setiawangsa. What’s more, the team from Dirigo Events will be there lending their support by providing refreshments.”

Taking into account all the great things that these clinics boast, surely the response has been good? “It’s been fantastic! About 80% of those who attended the previous session have returned for a second time. This tells me that they have gotten something out of these junior running clinics. Plus, parents have contacted me via my Instagram page (@markwilliamsadidas) to express how much their children enjoyed the sessions.”

When asked if parents can still sign their children up for these clinics, he says, “I’m afraid that they are all finished for this year, but we plan on conducting more sessions next year so watch this space!”

On the man himself

If Mark seems familiar, it’s very likely because you have seen him in action on the silver screen. Earlier this year, he starred as coach Harry Mountain in the Malaysian hit movie Ola Bola.

Talking about his foray into the entertainment scene, he says, “I play football for a veterans team. One day, our manager asked if anyone would be interested in playing the Arsenal coach in a Malaysian film about football. I auditioned and was told I got the part. But when I met with the assistant director, he informed me that they wanted me to play the role of the Malaysian coach instead. A bit-part role suddenly turned into one with 49 scenes! I was thrilled!”

One might think that making movies is all glitz and glamour but Mark begs to differ. “I was given some acting lessons and away we went. Filming was tough as most of it had to be done at night and I was the only person on set who also had a day job (Mark is Head of Geography at an international school in Sri Kembangan). On some nights at Stadium Merdeka, we would finish – or ‘wrap up’ as it’s called in the film industry – at 7am and I had to be at school by 8am!” But the complexities of filming haven’t dampened his spirits. “I’d love to do more acting. We’ll have to see. Hopefully, you all will see me on the silver screen again!” 

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