Worryingly children in the UK today are at much higher risks of developing life-long health issues due to lifestyle choices. In a nutshell, children aren’t moving around enough, they are eating too much sugar in their diets and being sedentary for prolonged periods.
UK Chief Medical Officers have produced physical activity guidelines for children and young people. They recommend that children and young people aged between 5 and 18 years should do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, (spread throughout the day). That is exercise that makes you breathe faster and feel warmer.
Despite these recommendations a large percentage of children are simply not being physical enough. In 2015 Public Health England published a Health Survey which detailed that of children aged between 5 and 15 only 23% of boys and 20% of girls actually met the recommendations outlined. Overall this amounts to two in ten children meeting the government recommendations.
There are numerous contributing factors including environment, socio economic factors, culture and traffic, but overall statistically the number of children reaching the government recommendations are surprisingly low whatever the reason.
As well as not moving enough children are also consuming too many calories, with sugar being the main culprit. Recently the government introduced ‘Obesity: A plan for action’ which outlines a multi-pronged approach to tackling the issue and intends to halve the number of obese children by 2030.
‘Today nearly a third of children aged 2 to 15 are overweight or obese and younger generations are becoming obese at earlier ages and staying obese for longer. Reducing obesity levels will save lives as obesity doubles the risk of dying prematurely. Obese adults are seven times more likely to become a type 2 diabetic than adults of a healthy weight which may cause blindness or limb amputation. And not only are obese people more likely to get physical health conditions like heart disease, they are also more likely to be living with conditions like depression.’
Steve Brine, Public Health Minister said at the launch of the report that:
“One in three children are now overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school. Over consumption, combined with reduced activity, is having a catastrophic effect on our children’s health. As both a parent and minister, I am committed to driving today’s pledge of halving obesity over the next twelve years with bold new action.”
The plan funded by the soft drinks tax levy has many target areas including, food industry and advertising but one of the vital drivers of this plan will be schools and colleges. It encourages schools to adopt methods to educate and support children towards healthier lifestyles and choices. The funding for schools will mainly come through sports premium funding to support schools in establishing programme and initiative to implement change.
“In England, the revenue from the levy will be invested in programmes to reduce obesity and encourage physical activity and balanced diets for school age children. This includes doubling the Primary PE and Sport Premium and putting a further £10 million a year into school healthy breakfast clubs to give more children a healthier start to their day.” “Given the considerable new funding that the soft drinks industry levy will make available for school sports, the Government is keen that schools are supported as much as possible in how they spend the available funds for maximum impact.” Children Obesity: A plan for Action January 2017
Funding is coming via the Healthy Pupils Capital Fund (HPCF) and is intended to improve children’s and young people’s physical and mental health by improving and increasing availability to facilities for physical activity, healthy eating, mental health and well-being and medical conditions. The guidance outlines that direct allocations for HPCF will be made to bodies responsible for individual institutions. and will be in addition to their normal SCA.
In establishing a change towards getting children to more physically active schools have increased opportunities for children to engage in sport activities during the day such as running a mile, wake and shake sessions, or setting up sports clubs like football or athletics during the breaks or after school. Although these programmes have a proven track record and established quantifiable results they are mainly too selective in their approach and not inclusive enough particularly to the children they need to target.
In a bid to develop a more inclusive approach schools have been using the fund to invest in interventions within the school playground to enhance children’s play at lunchtimes and break times which is successfully encouraging children to move more. There is a growing body of evidence that shows making interventions within school playgrounds can contribute a wealth of benefits for children’s physical, social and emotional well-being:
“There is good evidence that making changes to school playgrounds leads to an increase in children’s levels of physical activity. Various forms of intervention have been shown to give this outcome, including changes to marking, the addition of play equipment, making available games equipment (such as bats and balls) and the introduction of loose materials such as scrap and recycled office equipment. Some studies suggest that children are more physically active during free play than during sport or PE lessons.” The Play Return, T Gill 2014
“Examining the effects of this school playground intervention over a school year suggested that the introduction of movable/recycled materials can have a significant, positive long-term intervention effect on children’s Physical Activity. The implications from this simple, low-cost intervention provide impetus for schools to consider introducing the concept of a movable/recycled materials intervention on a wider scale within primary school settings.” BMC Public Health 2014
In a recent interview with the Observer, Anne Longfield the children’s commissioner said radical measures were needed to restore the importance of play, such as overhauling play areas and parks, and encouraging GP’s to recommend “play on prescription”. She pointed to evidence showing that cardiovascular health and obesity levels deteriorate over the summer break as children stay indoors on computers and phones. Longfield called for the funds raised by the “governments sugar tax levy ” to be used to ensure attractive play schemes were located in the right areas and gave children and parents a safe, exciting and affordable facility. Guardian 2018
The PlayPod project investigated augmenting outdoor play in schools. It provided primary schools with a container, or ‘Pod’, full of loose parts, (scrap materials), and explored changes to the human environment, with the aim of stimulating, facilitating and enhancing children’s play. The results of this project were extraordinary and exceeded expectations in several ways. The inescapable conclusion is that given a conducive environment, both human and physical, the capacity and ability of children to play is witnessed as inexhaustible, and that the play itself, if left to the children, is similarly as varied as their imaginations and is therefore unending. Play Pods in Schools An independent evaluation M. Armitage 2010
We know that through play children understand each other and make sense of the world around them. Children learn so much from play; it teaches them social skills such as sharing, taking turns, self-discipline and tolerance of others. Children’s lives are improved by playing; it helps them learn and develop as individuals. Children enjoy playing because there is no ‘right or wrong way’, they can use their imagination to develop games and interact with each other without any adult help. They need opportunities for unstructured play, as over programming can spoil its true benefits. Play really is the answer, even if we knew it all along!
‘Providing for children and young people’s play is one of the most important things we can do to improve and protect their physical, mental, social and emotional health and wellbeing. A body of evidence recognises playing as an essential part of every child’s development and providing opportunities for play that are available and accessible contributes to better health outcomes for children and young people.’ Dr Ruth Hussey OBE, Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for Wales
Scrapstore Play Services can advise and support schools with developing play spaces. They have been supporting schools and early years settings for the past ten years through the delivery of play training, research and consultancy, advocating and supporting the development of play. For more information please call 0117 9143002