Our blueprint for the next Government to save young people from the physical inactivity crisis

by Baroness Sue Campbell CBE, Chair of the Youth Sport Trust

Inactivity is destroying the potential of our children. The latest data shows around 4 in 5 children do not do enough daily physical activity to keep healthy. While most people, quite rightly, associate lack of activity with a decline in physical health and an increase in obesity, fewer people are aware of a wider, often hidden, consequence; that inactivity affects a child’s ability to succeed at school and in life.

Inactivity undermines a child’s ability to achieve in the classroom. Science demonstrates that low levels of aerobic fitness and physical activity are associated with declines in academic achievement, cognitive abilities, brain structure and brain function. Education and health are, of course, closely linked, with overall health and wellbeing levels a key determinant of how well a child can achieve at school.

But the detrimental effect of inactivity stretches beyond classroom achievement. Inactive children miss out on the personal, social and emotional development opportunities that their more active peers have available to them in abundance. A child taking part in sport, for example, has the opportunity to work in a team, to lead, to challenge, to win, to lose. At a time when over half of employers say young people lack communication skills, and more young people than ever are suffering from low self esteem due to the pressures of social media, physical activity and sport allows young people to explore their strengths, develop their resilience and build their employability prospects, like no other.

Research illustrates that inactivity not only has a high personal cost but an extortionate economic one: estimated to exceed £53 billion over the lifetime of today’s children based on the costs of the increased burden of disease, reduced quality of life, and lower life expectancy. Given the figures, the Government has no choice but to take inactivity seriously. Indeed, to make the NHS financially sustainable, we must address the cause of the diseases that it is having to increasingly treat.

Public Health England’s publication of, Everybody active every day: a framework to embed physical activity, into our everyday lives is a good starting point, as is the establishment of an all party commission on physical activity. I eagerly anticipate the outcome of the recently announced Health Select Committee inquiry into diet and physical activity.

Yet, given the scale of the problem, there is much more that can, and should, be done.

Early intervention, in the form of high quality physical education, is one such measure.

Providing high quality PE is the starting point for getting more children moving. PE provides children with the basic movement skills (or physical literacy) they need to be active later on in life. Children who fail to develop these basic skills, such as agility, balance and coordination will lack the competence and the confidence to take part in sport or physical activity in later life, leading to a lifetime of inactivity. Of course, the delivery of PE is equally important - many children are put off physical activity and sport for life by poorly taught PE at school.

Despite the positive interventions such as the Primary PE and Sport Premium and the Sainsbury’s School Games, our own PE and school sport survey indicates a decline in the amount of PE and school sport undertaken by young people in recent years.

So what needs to happen on the ground?  

Our manifesto ‘Unlocking Potential’, launched at the House of Lords today (Wednesday 14 January 2015), has three overarching asks for the next Government: more time for higher quality PE, physical activities embedded into every school day and sustained competitive sport in schools. We believe, if implemented, these would ensure every child has the opportunity to be healthy, happy and active.

Of course, PE and school sport is no panacea. But it is a key tool that can and must be used by the next Government as part of a package of interventions to not only get young people moving again, but to unlock their potential.

To read the full Youth Sport Trust Unlocking Potential manifesto, click here.