Thursday, 6 September 2012

Are today’s children getting enough exercise?

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.

Feel strongly about this topic or have an experience to share? Then please leave your comments below.

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  1. Another blogger, Spikes and Heels I think it was once said (and I'm saying this from memory so I'm probably getting it wrong) that women are mis sold exercise as a weight loss aid. Since getting that in my head, I actually enjoy it far more. I don't exercise anymore to lose weight, there is a small weightloss effect but it is small. If you want to lose weight, dieting is actually more effective or dieting AND exercise but exercise alone doesn't do it.

    What exercise does do is make you feel healthier, it makes life easier (climbing stairs without getting out of breath) and once you get into it, it gives you a real buzz.

    If people are expecting some miraculous change to their bodies from one aerobics session a week, it's not going to happen also you can't motivate yourself based upon seeing the change in your body, the results are too gradual but if you motivate yourself based upon the way you feel it's far easier to sustain.

    Sorry, I'm writing an essay here...

    Anyway, the reason I'm passionate about it is I got into running this year. Since taking up running I feel better, I sleep better, I feel a bit grumpy if I don't do it. Another friend of mine has really got into rowing and she loves it. If you'd met either of us at school, we would have been one of the last people in the class to get chosen for sport teams. What I find incredibly sad is that no sport I did at school enthused me in the way I've managed to find enthusiasm now.

    What got me back into exercise though was the Race for Life. I'm sure I'm not the only woman who's got into running because of it. More things like that where the point isn't about how you look but doing it for another reason and because it is a great thing to do will I'm sure get more girls and women back to sport.

    Here endeth my ramble!

  2. Of course most kids aren't getting enough exercise. Too much screen time because parents are busy and/or disinterested to take them to the park; driving instead of walking to school because parents are too busy/lazy and opt to drive.... Exercise and being energetic should be a natural part of a kid's day and not something that needs to be scheduled in a structured way.

    PE at school has always sucked and is not the solution, though I agree it could be better than it is now. It's up to parents to make being active a natural part of life for their children, instilling healthy habits so that even if a child hates organised sport they still get out and move around.

    1. I agree, parents need to lead by example but even though I run 3 days a week I still drive my son to nursery (10 minutes walk away) because if I didn't I would have a 20 minute round trip to get back to my car to drive to work. I don't think it's just laziness, it's partly time.

  3. Thanks for your comments and I do agree that parents need to lead by example, something that Mr M and I are working on as neither of us are very sporty, but I have started running and plan to start cycling too once Mr M gives my bike a refurb!

    We're fortunate too that our primary school is a very active school and along with PE each week, my two children swim twice a week at school (one extra-curricular) plus they can join in clubs before and after school like gymnastics & dancing (run by an external provider) and as they get older things like multi-sports, hockey, football, netball, water polo even dry slope skiing! All attended by teachers from the school.

  4. Time can definitely be a factor. Some mornings there just aren't 20 minutes to spare! You're right in that children need to see their parents being active as well as helping their kids be active. I run 3x a week and DH cycles 5x a week so being active is a normal part of life.

    I think putting the focus on schools to give structured sport is only partly addressing the problem. Sport can be great for building confidence, friendships and skills, but it can also be horrible and put kids off for life! Incorporating activity into normal routine is critical IMO, and a lot more valuable than trying to promote structured sport as the panacea.

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