Now that the London 2012 Olympic Games have come and gone, thoughts have started to turn towards what organisers and the media are referring to as the ‘Olympic legacy’. While the term has been used to describe many things, a considerable portion of what’s been discussed has centred around the hope that the Games will encourage and inspire young people to become more active.
One of the main drivers behind this objective is the general belief that British children aren’t getting enough exercise. In a public statement during the games, Lord Coe, chairman of the London 2012 organising committee, warned that the current generation of parents are likely to be the first to be fitter than their children. He made a plea to politicians to recognise the importance of competitive sport in schools and instilling patterns of exercise from an early age.
Whether Lord Coe’s prediction is correct is a subject up for debate. It does seem to be true however, that children on average aren’t getting the recommended level of exercise in a week. A study by the British Heart Foundation in 2009 found that only one in eight of 1,000 children aged between 8 and 15 were getting 60 minutes of physical activity a day, with a worrying one in three doing less than an hour a week.
A recent study by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) found that the situation was even more dire for girls, reporting that only 12% of girls aged 14 are getting enough exercise – around half the number of boys that are. The main reason for this is attributed to the fact that a large number of girls are put off exercise and sport by their PE lessons.
One positive note that the WSFF’s study did pick up was that girls seemed to want to be more active and exercise regularly, but many said that there weren’t the right outlets available to them. On the other hand, the BHF’s aforementioned study found that, of the children they surveyed, one in five considered exercise to be ‘a chore’; something to do only if you’re overweight. The worry is that as these groups of children grow up, and rarely used girl’s sportswear becomes untouched ladies’ sportswear, a generation of extremely unhealthy people, without a regular exercise pattern, will face serious health problems in later life.
Clearly, the solution isn’t as simple as extracting inspiration from the Olympic heroics of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and others – although it could certainly be considered a valuable component in transforming attitudes. The consensus from different studies, Lord Coe, and the government seems to be that the teaching of physical education at schools is at fault – although many also identify increasing use of internet, computer game and television culture, and sedentary lifestyles as large contributory factors.
In response to this problem, the government has pledged £1bn over the next four years to be invested in school sports. Whether it will help to slow or reverse the trend, which the BHF claims will see two thirds of all children labelled overweight or obese by 2050, remains to be seen. However, if the problem is down to attitudes as well as the way physical education is handled across the country, it might take a lot more than money – or the Olympic legacy for that matter – to shift things in the right direction.
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