This week UK media have been reporting on the increasingly visible issue of childhood obesity. Leading figures in sport state “Today’s children are the least active generation ever,” and say that school sport facilities should be kept open all summer, to allow people to access them for sports clubs and activities so they stay active during the summer holidays.
The proposals are designed to re-establish the holidays as a time to get active instead of peak dormancy time when UK kids aren’t getting any exercise.
News reports such as this [and this] shine a light on recent lobbying from fitness leaders to encourage our government to implement real and measurable changes in order to provide more opportunity for sport for our young people.
Nearly 40 percent of all sports facilities sit behind closed gates in schools for the extensive summer holiday period. During this time children become even more inactive and undo about 80% of fitness gains they develop during term time. According to a recent Sport England Survey cited to the government now only 17.5% of children meet the daily recommended exercise quota of 1hr a day and one in five UK school kids are overweight by the time they commence primary school.
The fitness leader group called upon the government to keep the facilities open and have laid out a plan that would need very little funding to implement. (Presumably staffing and maintenance costs only?) as the equipment and playing fields are all there ready to use. The coalition said that for just £7 per child a day 1.2 million school children could benefit.
Healthy active children are statistically more likely to grow up into active healthier adults so the proposals would reduce some of the prophesised future burden on the NHS from the next generation of screen addicted inactive kids and save lives by reducing obesity related disease and mortality rates.
The group’s leader Baroness Grey-Thompson said “It is time for the Government to show its commitment to the next generation by unlocking the school sports facilities lying unused on the doorstep of every neighbourhood.
“We urge the next Prime Minister and Chancellor to support schools to have a powerful impact on the health and wellbeing of children, young people and their families by opening over the summer holidays and engaging families in local, affordable and healthy activity opportunities.
“This is an unmissable opportunity to reshape the summer holiday period, and realise the ambitions of many existing policies aiming to improve child health by encouraging physical activity, tackle childhood obesity and reduce loneliness through improved social cohesion.”
Recent surveys have shown that 30 percent of kids are doing less than 30 mins exercise a day meanwhile ministers have announced a long awaited and seemingly limited action plan to get children doing an hour of exercise a day. The plan does suggest that the government are going to be pressing schools and sports groups to work together to share facilities and keep sport available during evening’s, weekends and holidays.
So are the government going to do what is being asked of them? The language is (as usual) deeply ambiguous. The government has laid plans and come up with a name for the plans but it is doubtful we will see the plans fully realised whilst the money being committed to implement change is considerably minimal.
The proposed “School Sport and Activity Action Plan” met a lukewarm response from the sports sector and came under criticism for being a rehash of the School Sports Partnership which was introduced under the previous Labour government but scrapped by the coalition in 2010.
Criticism has also fallen on ministers for not capitalising on the London 2012 Olympics as it was promised to be a bounding board for a mass uptake in sports culture in order to make us more competitive in future generations whilst reaping the massive societal benefit to being healthier as a nation whilst taking the pressure off the NHS due to reducing illness born from sedentary lifestyles.
Sport leaders including the Youth Sport Trust and The Football Association released said in a joint statement that the Governments School Sport and Activity Action Plan "sets out some encouraging intentions and acknowledges the absolute priority of getting every young person enjoying 60 active minutes every day.
“It is also important that further policy change is brought forward. The success of the plan will ultimately hinge on how it is resourced.”
At a time when schools are considerably underfunded already the government has been asked to make some real changes by pledging to implement to sports coalitions suggestions and they have responded with a named action plan but it remains to be seen if this translates into a commitment of money to make something happen when school budgets are at an all time low. Watch this space.