Brian Whittle is a gold medallist runner who aims to introduce widespread after school childcare focussed on delivering high quality exercise and physical activities. This is a long term strategy which is fun for children yet could provide immense health benefits and even enhance academic performance.
There are studies which support the validity of Brian’s aims. But do enough politicians have the long sightedness and will to ring fence funding that is needed?
In order to prevent obesity in our youngsters and the disorders associated with sedentary behaviour a culture change is needed. The unhealthy eating, snacking and reliance on screen based entertainment needs to be replaced by three good meals a day and movement to counteract the long hours sitting in the classroom. Many parents work long hours too, and would welcome group based physical activity for their children in a safe environment.
Brian is seeking support from leaders and health ministers from all parties. Some headmasters are highly supportive and are delighted with the improved behaviour, reduced truancy and improved grades that they are seeing in pupils who have become more engaged as a result of fun activities after school.
More than 2.3 million children in the UK are overweight or obese and even the under 12s are showing signs of high blood pressure, cholesterol abnormalities, type two diabetes and liver disease.
Dr Tim Lobstein, director of the Childhood Obesity Programme says, “ It will be tragic if it is not tackled. Chronic diseases are moving forward at an ever increasing rate. Our kids are eating themselves into an early grave. We will have the first generation to die at an earlier age than their parents. Britain along with some other southern European countries are at the top of the list. While soft drink and confectionery sales have rocketed, and TV watching, computer games, and other sedentary media have grown, exercise has fallen. Unless the obesity epidemic is brought under control we are facing the prospect of medicating kids at primary school and for the rest of their lives. If we can just find a way of encouraging healthy growth then we can avoid an enormous amount of grief in the future. Unless we start teaching our children in schools about raising children, feeding them properly, exercise and the difference between good and bad food, then we are just going to exacerbate the problem.”
Getting children to become more physically active and achieve normal weights has been found to improve attention, planning and thus have knock on effects on academic performance. ( Davis CL et al Pediatr Exerc Sci. August 6 2015)
Children who are more active in late childhood can demonstrate lower body weight and lower risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes by their mid- teens. This means an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise a day. A national approach involving the collaboration of various government agencies would be needed to produce widespread benefit. (Stamatakis E. Pediatrics Vol 135 No 6. 6 Jun 2015)
For younger children under the age of 6, three hours of activity, spread throughout the day is recommended by the US Institute of Medicine. They hope that such recommendations can help reduce overweight and obesity which is currently at 27% in this age group.
For adults at least 30 minutes of activity a day is recommended. The good news is that the earlier you get into exercise the more the habit is like to stick. Swimming, dancing, walking, running, yoga, jogging, tennis, basketball and football are all suitable. The fitter you are in early adulthood, the lower your total mortality rate and cardiovascular disease rate. There is a clear dose response between exercise and fitness and fitness, well-being and mortality rates. (Shah et al. JAMA Internal Medicine 1-9)
Even if you have been sedentary for years or cannot tolerate 30 minutes a day, it is recommended by the American Heart Association that you start with walking. Apart from benefits to the individual there is a benefit in health care costs in the future. ( AHA 6 Dec 15)
Emma and I are already into the exercise habit. It certainly is more of a challenge in Scotland with our awful weather and long, dark, winter nights. What good ways have you found to keep active and support your children to be active?