Over 1 in 5 children in Reception, and over 1 in 3 children in Year 6 were measured as obese or overweight most recent statistics show. National Obesity Awareness Week is undoubtedly a time for action, but also a time to reflect on a journey that has resulted in a tenfold increase in the number of obese and overweight children and teens over the last 40 years, according to the World Health Organisation.
The Government released its 10-year plan to cut childhood obesity in 2016 and last week we saw Public Health England (PHE) launch a campaign to encourage parents to stop giving their children unhealthy snacks and instead look for healthier options of no more than 100 calories, twice a day.
While healthier diets are part of the solution, it is vital that we find ways to get children more active. People are less active nowadays, partly because technology has made our lives easier. We drive cars or take public transport, and technology is everywhere making our day to day living more sedentary. Research from the Department of Health suggests that many teenagers spend more than seven hours a day sitting down, at school, on transport or in their leisure time. It makes me question the example we are setting for the next generation?
I am sure I speak for many when I say I want children to be active not just in physical education and sports, but during lunch hours, through after-school activities and with a timetable tailored for an active school day. We all need to move more.
Public Health England’s new campaign to cut sugar intake is great, but I want to push forward with highlighting the importance of getting children more active too. It is promising to see a sugar tax on the UK soft drinks industry has already been announced and will come into force this April, benefitting the sport and PE offering in primary schools across the country through the doubling of the Primary PE and Sport Premium, but more can be done and schools need to be more creative in how they get children moving more during school hours.
Research has shown us time again that physical activity boosts mental wellbeing, reduces anxiety and improves mood. But daily physical activity is still not taken seriously by senior leaders in school or by parents. As a parent of three I am determined my children live an active lifestyle and create lifelong habits but that isn’t shred by my peers or by my children’s school! We need to change the sedentary norm and create a new norm for our children where they get their 5-a-day, are supported to make better choices with regards to sugar and are encouraged to be more active…after all it’s largely adults that stop children moving in the first place.
We need to encourage healthy active habits for life, that are born out of engagement in early-years settings. We must do more to meet the needs of young people and offer solutions to overcome socio-economic factors, such as poor diet and lack of understanding of how to keep healthy.
Currently children fare worse than adults in meeting physical activity guidelines, and this situation seems to be worsening. To reverse the deepening obesity crisis, we are urging policy makers to see how the power of sport, PE and physical activity is valued, used strategically and repurposed to develop the traits and skills young people need to cope in today’s fast paced, digital world.
I also want to see more schools adopting a whole school approach to PE, physical activity and school sport. This requires schools to ‘take up the corridor’ what is happening in sports halls, PE lessons or on playing fields. Schools who are doing this encourage children to be active by default.
We need to help children see physical activity as the norm. This week, the Youth Sport Trust is asking parents, guardians, schools and teachers, to do all they can to get children active – whether that is through active travel, active classrooms or being active long after the school bell rings. We all need to keep an eye on unhealthy, sugary snacking habits, but the correlation between engagement in physical activity and sport, and improved emotional well-being is marked, as is the connection between physical activity, school sport and improved academic achievement. We want our young people to thrive in life and National Obesity Week is a great time to set them on a healthy journey.