With Chinese youngsters' health declining for the 20th successive year, Zhong Nanshan, a renowned medical expert, called for a reform of the educational system and urged the youngsters to take more active part in sports activities.
The 71-year-old Zhong, also a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), told the People's Education, a fortnightly magazine, in an exclusive interview that Chinese youngsters' health can never be dramatically improved under the current educational system.
"The system is the most important reason," he said. "Examinations marks are the only thing on which we are based to evaluate the students. Marks mean everything to the students. To get more marks, the students have to spend most of their time on memorizing everything on the books. "
Zhong, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and the director of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases, became a household name and hero No. 1 in 2003 for his brave fight against SARS.
"Under the current system, what the students and their parents care most is whether they can achieve good results in examinations and whether they are good enough to enter a top university.
"So if the students are not sick, are well enough to go to school, their parents will not feel anything is wrong with their health."
But a latest survey showed that the health of Chinese youngsters, especially those from urban primary and high schools, has declined to a alarming level.
The survey, co-sponsored by ten organizations including the State General Administration of Sport, the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health, said that one out of three men and one out of eight boys in Chinese urban areas are overweight.
The overweight rate among Chinese urban teenagers is 13.25 percent for boys and 8.72 percent for girls.
Apart from obesity, Chinese students face other physical problems like short-sightedness and high blood pressure, and their stamina, speed, vital capacity and strength are decreasing, the survey said.
Statistics also showed that 20.9 percent of parents are not in favor of physical exercise for their children and 66 percent of students exercise for less than an hour everyday.
Zhong, who was a national 400 meters hurdles champion and still holds several track and field records of the Medical School of Peking University (formerly the Beijing Medical University), said that competitive sports are the best way for the youngsters to improve their health.
"I am 71 years old and am still energetic. I should thank sports to make me so fit. I began to take part in competitive sports when I was in primary school. And sports have always been apart of my life since then."
Zhong has been playing basketball twice a week since 1983 and without sports, he can never hold on as a doctor.
"I worked for 40 hours without any rest during the SARS outbreak in 2003 and lost five kilograms of weight. I should thank sports most."
(Xinhua News Agency March 8, 2007)