Refocusing the Need for Sport Among Youth

Since the Olympic extravaganza we saw in London this summer, there has been an increasing focus on the role that sports can play in society. In the UK, Britain's Mo Farah recently joined London's mayor, Boris Johnson, spearheading a campaign to improve child fitness. In the U.S., Michelle Obama had already forged an inspiring Let's Move! campaign and she memorably appeared in a video dancing along with girls at a Washington, D.C. school last year.

Across the world there is a recognition that sports and exercise need to be a bigger part of people's lives and especially in the lives of children who are spending more time in front of computers and less in gym class. A look at the WHO statistics on world obesity reveals the extent of this problem. Globally, 40 million children under five are overweight, and in the U.S. (which is one of the world's most overweight nations), childhood obesity has tripled in recent decades. Michelle Obama's campaign has a meaningful slogan: "America's move to raise a healthier generation of kids."

Yet obesity is a problem that can be remedied. A report presented by Nike and other organizations showed that as children reach adolescence, their preferences -- for physical action or inactivity -- begin to take shape, and by early adulthood have hardened. When kids are young, before the age of ten, there is a critical window of opportunity when their habits and motivations can be influenced. Thus (as Nike's campaign stresses) we need to give kids opportunities to play and have fun, and to integrate exercise and activity naturally into their lives. We need to change the conversation around sports and exercise and to make it more appealing to them.

What happens if we do nothing? The potential consequences of the obesity epidemic are alarming. Right now, almost two-thirds of the world's population live in countries where being overweight kills more people than being underweight. These trends are visible almost everywhere. In a striking video, the researchers at Nike note that for the first time in history, members of this generation are expected to live five years less than their parents.

This explains why so many policy-makers are taking action. In Qatar -- where high temperatures discourage outdoor exercise in the daytime -- obesity and related health problems like diabetes are rising; Qatar ranks sixth in the world globally for prevalence of obesity. Besides hosting the soccer World Cup in 2022, its leaders are consistently engaging with this issue. For example, the Emir's declaration of a National Sports Day and the country's investment in the Aspire Zone, a 240 hectare state-of-the-art athletic complex, symbolizes Qatar's everlasting commitment to sport. Created in 2004, the Aspire Academy further helps transform promising student-athletes into champions both on and off the field.

Consequently, this coming December, we decided at Doha GOALS, Gathering of All Leaders in Sport, to welcome 400 students from top high schools and universities from all over the world. This generation needs to be involved in the creation of a sustainable roadmap for sport-related initiatives and the development of sport as a tool for social progress and economic development.

Obesity is a problem that nearly every nation in the world is facing but there is much that we can do to fix it. Let's move and take action on this issue. And let's not forget that in addition to its physical benefits exercise makes people feel better about their daily lives and boosts happiness levels too.