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Poor physical activity levels being overlooked as cause of child obesity crisis

How often do we hear from MPs and industry experts that the main cause of obscenely high child obesity levels boils down to an unhealthy diet?

There is no questioning that the importance of eating the right foods, cutting out high sugary snacks and reducing screen-time are all paramount to helping combat the rise in children’s health problems.

However, we are in the deep midst of a childhood obesity crisis in the UK and the contributing factors are endless, but the importance of encouraging children to partake in more daily physical activity needs to be taken more seriously. 

Latest figures show that there is a growing number of children who are becoming obese as young as four or five years with nearly 10% of children in first year of school in England being recorded as severely overweight, whilst the number of obese 10 and 11-year-olds in their last primary school year also rose from 19.1% to 19.8% last year.

Health is more than just diet. The body requires movement and activity to enable a fit and working cardiovascular system which in turn, can help prevent health problems in later life.

As well as reducing the risk of developing several diseases like type 2 diabetes and cancer, it is also proven that regular exercise can dramatically improve mental wellbeing. A recent study in Norway revealed that when kids who get more moderate to vigorous physical activity at ages 6 and 8, are less likely to have symptoms of major depressive disorders two years later.

A common error that we as a nation have failed with down the years has been the way in which we encourage children to take part in more physical activity. Curriculum PE has always been the focus, however, two hours a week is simply not good enough. 

Furthermore, the key is to engage children in fun games and activities for everyone rather than throwing them into organised sport without the interest and skills to thrive. PE lessons are also guilty of this, kids are immediately put off taking part in sport if they are not as accomplished as their peers and more often that not, these negative experiences can carry through to adulthood. 

Last year did mark a breakthrough for advocates of children’s physical activity, when the government outlined the need for children to participate in more daily physical activity in their childhood obesity strategy.

The Chief Medical Guidelines state that everyone should be engaging in at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day and the strategy calls for primary schools to ensure that pupils take part in at least 30 minutes’ activity, whilst parents and guardians should be held responsible for the remaining 30 minutes.

In England, it has been revealed that the new sugar tax levy revenue will be invested in giving school-aged children a brighter and healthier future which will include programmes to encourage physical activity, a positive step. In addition to this, MPs recently called on the government to encourage initiatives in schools such as the active mile for health and academic improvement.

Our Healthy Active Schools System (HASS) is, and will be, a key support tool for schools to help improve kids’ activity levels. The government-backed HASS enables comprehensive reporting and analysis of pupils’ participation throughout the school year, to track activity as well as improvements, benchmarking and competition involvement.

School staff can also download resources for PE and activity ideas, and access recognised training for continuous professional development. For more information and ways to sign up visit www.fitforsport.co.uk/active-schools/healthy-active-schools-system.

There is no doubt that a lack of physical activity amongst the younger generation is being seen by more and more people as the key cause to rising child obesity levels, but it’s still not enough and until this is addressed as the defining problem, we will be continuing to fight a losing battle.

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