VANCOUVER — When nine-year-old Viaan Deol goes to bhangra classes twice a week, his favorite part is seeing all the friends he’s made from different schools in Surrey, BC
His mum, Raj Kaur, is thrilled that he is getting more physically fit and connecting with his Punjabi roots during the hour-long high-energy classes at a dance school.
“If they stay at home, they just watch TV and sit and eat. They don’t do any other activities,” Kaur said of Viaan and his five-year-old brother, Jaivir Deol, who was eager to follow his older brother into the world of bhangra, a folk dance that originated in India’s Punjab province. to celebrate the harvest.
Viaan was initially more interested in music than the traditional dance moves he started at age four, but has since performed in a few local shows and enjoys taking part in the bhangra action at weddings and parties, he said.
“You have to get all the steps right. I feel like I get a good workout.”
Kaur said he thinks his two sons are getting great physical benefits from bhangra classes at a local dance academy.
While Viaan’s parents enrolled him in classes outside of school, results from a pilot project in four primary schools suggest that bhangra offers aerobic benefits.
Dr. Tricia Tang, a researcher at the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute, led the pilot that had 156 students attend bhangra classes twice a week for seven months.
The small pilot was part of an after-school program at three schools in Surrey and another in neighboring Delta, a highly populated region of South Asia, which is at greater risk than other groups of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Results published last June in the journal Childhood Obesity show improvement in aerobic fitness, which was measured using a 20-meter running test, vertical jump heights, waist circumference and body mass index, or BMI.
“The average number of laps our group as a whole managed to complete was 19. After the seven-month intervention, the average number of laps was 26, which is phenomenal,” Tang said of the driver between November 2017 and May. from 2018.
However, a pilot study does not show causality, so what is needed is a randomized control trial to provide empirical evidence of early intervention involving many more schools and students, she said.
Canada lacks research on the cardiovascular health of South Asians, the fastest-growing group of immigrants who also have the highest rates of death and illness associated with heart disease.
Studies done mainly in the UK show that South Asians have higher blood sugar levels, waist circumference and body mass index, or BMI, compared to the general population.
“We already know that nine- to 10-year-olds are already at a disadvantage. That disadvantage builds and builds over time if they don’t engage in risk-reducing behaviors,” said Tang, who is also an associate professor in the division of endocrinology at the University of British Columbia.
The pilot’s aim at the four schools was to improve the fitness of South Asian children from an early age, in the hope that they would adopt exercise as a lifelong habit. The bhangra classes were offered because dancing is part of children’s culture and history and their parents can relate to it for the same reasons.
“It’s fun,” Tang said. “For me, it was more about when we’re trying to get families involved, what are the best forms of exercise that we can use, where the parents are equally excited about it as the kids are.”
Along with the free lessons, students aged eight to 12 also received six instructional videos of beginner, intermediate and advanced bhangra levels, directed and produced by British Columbia’s top bhangra dancers, so that children can practice at home. and get their parents involved, Tang said.
Tang said the fun factor was an important part of the pilot because people of all ages are more likely to engage in an activity they enjoy.
“I would love to do a study in Richmond using K-pop,” she said of the British Columbia city with a large Chinese population, which is also at higher risk of diabetes compared to its white Canadian counterparts.
“It’s the visceral body fat that’s around the organs that is the dangerous fat. It’s not like Homer Simpson’s fat around his waist. East Asians are at greater risk than whites, but South Asians are much more at risk than East Asians.”
Some families face barriers to fitness, including the cost of classes, she said, noting that dances like bhangra can promote fitness in children and can be part of school programs in many communities.
“Some parents can’t afford to take two hours out of the weekend to get their kids to school and back. When you look at the neighborhoods where the median household income is lower, those are the schools that don’t have funding for programs like this,” Tang said.
“There is a lot of disadvantage in certain areas where children would benefit most but have fewer resources.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on February 28, 2023.
Canadian Press health coverage is supported through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. CP is solely responsible for this content.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION