Today’s children are not as active as they should be, reveals a (not surprising) report from UK Active. In 'Generation Inactive' the health body recommends routine testing of children's fitness. Primary schools should test pupils' fitness in the same way as subjects like maths and English to stem the tide of physical inactivity threatening to overwhelm the NHS, concludes the report.
‘Generation Inactive' highlights findings from a series of Freedom of Information requests that found 43 percent of primary schools recorded the length of time children actually spend being physically active in PE lessons.
The report, which has received backing from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, highlights how ever-rising rates of physical inactivity in children could lead to today’s generation of children becoming a huge drain on the NHS in years to come as they develop chronic conditions associated with inactivity ranging from diabetes to cancers.
Only half of seven year olds are meeting the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) physical activity guidelines of 60 minutes per day. Previous research by UK Active has shown that physical inactivity is responsible for more deaths than obesity or smoking in England, and is estimated to cost public services and the wider economy around £20bn per year. Inactive people are also significantly more likely to suffer from depression, and dementia than physically active adults.
The report describes the physical inactivity pandemic as a ”ticking time-bomb under the shared pledges of all political parties to maintain a NHS free at the point of need".
UK Active outlines a series of recommendations it says provide a pathway towards solving the physical inactivity pandemic in schools - where good and bad exercise habits learned at a young age can carry on into later life. They include integrating physical activity throughout the school day to ensure children achieve the 60 minutes of daily exercise.
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, UK Active's Chair and Britain's most decorated Paralympian, said:
“We are calling for a focus on a 'whole school approach'. This means looking at how children travel to and from school, the manner in which they integrate activity as simple as standing in lessons, the development of more effective and structured use of play time opportunities and the provision of pre- and post school activities.
Professor Russell Viner, Officer for Health Promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:
"At a time where children should be at their most active, it's concerning that half of seven year olds are not doing the recommended one hour of physical activity that's advised each day - the Generation Inactive report is a welcome reminder that more must be done to improve the health of our nation's children.
"A sedentary lifestyle doesn't just mean a child could be overweight, it is an issue that can affect a child's entire life, from poor concentration levels impacting on life chances post school, and increased risk of emotional and wellbeing issues like depression, right through to developing life-long medical conditions like type two diabetes - all of which can have dire consequences if not managed properly.
"We already know that a healthy child is much more likely to go on to be a healthy adult, so it is important that we set children on the right trajectory from an early age and continue to encourage healthy lifestyles as they move through life. That means instilling positive behaviour early such as ensuring parents are supported to be healthy before and during pregnancy, teaching children about healthy eating in school and working with local authorities to ensure roads are safe for children to cycle, scoot or walk to school by implementing 20mph speed limits in built up areas."
Former Children's Commissioner for England Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green, said
"Whether walking, cycling or being active in and out of PE lessons, providing children with opportunities to be active throughout the day, before, during and after school, is key to engaging even the most disengaged children."
Jason Torrance, Policy Director for Sustrans, said:
"The news that half of seven-year-olds don’t get the hour of daily exercise recommended by health experts is sad, but not entirely surprising.
“The easiest way for children and their families to get physically active is for cycling, walking or scooting to school to be the norm. Although most children live within walking or cycling distance to school, less than half walk and very few cycle. Creating safe routes to school has the added bonus of reducing congestion on the roads, cutting pollution and saving money on car running costs.”
UK Active is a not-for-profit health body for the physical activity sector, with over 3,500 members, from activity providers to major consumer brands, training facilities and equipment manufacturers. The body's tagline is "getting more people, more active, more often."