Remember when you used to play footie in the schoolyard with your best mates? Or playing hopscotch on the pavement in your street, or having skipping contests? Halcyon days, right? But your kids, or your friends’ kids, may not have those kinds of memories, as they bury their noses in the latest gaming sensation or the endless loop of cartoons on YouTube.
According to the latest research on children and exercise, in a study by children’s charity the Youth Sport Trust, the current generation is the most inactive compared with all previous ones, and nearly half of all parents (48 percent) believe children aged 5-18 only need to be active for around 30 minutes or less a day – whereas the government’s chief medical officer recommends they should be highly active – with an elevated heart rate – for an average of at least 60 minutes a day in order to stay happy and healthy.
Childhood obesity rates in England have soared in recent years. As many as 10 percent of reception age children (age 4-5) were classed as obese in 2021-22, with a further 12 per cent as overweight. At age 10-11 (year 6), 23.4 percent were obese and 14.3 percent overweight. The figures are gathered as part of the National Child Measurement Programme by NHS England.
The YST says a lack of awareness of the CMO’s recommendation may be contributing to low activity levels among children. Less than half of all young people in the UK (47%) are active for 60 minutes each day, with almost a third (30%) doing on average fewer than 30 active minutes a day, the research shows.
In a bid to increase awareness of the need for children to “get active”, the charity is running its annual National School Sports Week campaign, supported by high-street chain Sports Direct, between 19 and 25 June, to get more children ‘playing for fun, playing for 60’.
It’s working with families and schools to ensure people are better informed about the benefits of sport and play for children. In last year’s campaign, schools taking part provided more than 650,000 young people with opportunities to become more involved in PE, play and sport.
Alison Oliver MBE, YST chief executive, says: “We know children are leading increasingly sedentary lives. Screen time is up, and time spent in nature is down – it’s no surprise that parents and teachers are increasingly concerned about children’s physical activity levels and the effects of this in the classroom.
“Children’s formative years influence their wellbeing, development, education outcomes and physical activity levels well into adulthood. There is a compelling evidence base for getting more play and sport into children’s lives. Pockets of innovative practice which are unlocking new ways to inspire young people to get active are emerging, but a priority has to be raising public awareness of the CMO guidance. Our National School Sports Week is a great opportunity for us to engage with schools and families.”
How I got my daughters off their screens
Donia Youssef is a 45-year-old children’s author, who has written the Monster series of books, with cancer in the family as one of the themes. She lives in Essex with her two daughters, aged seven and nine.
“My two daughters were spending lots of time every day on screens, usually on a tablet, playing computer games. However, over time, I’ve developed some strategies that have helped tip the scale towards a more balanced lifestyle. These are some methods that worked for me.
Try to incorporate physical activities into a daily routine – I realised that asking my children to exercise would always be met with resistance, so I started including physical activities in their everyday routine. Walking or cycling to school, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, doing gardening together, walking the dogs, or even cleaning the house can contribute to a child’s daily exercise quota. It was a subtle change but an effective one.
Ensure you make exercise fun – traditional exercises can be boring for kids, so I experimented with activities that kept my child engaged. We started with family dance-offs, outdoor games, swimming, hiking, and even treasure hunts that encouraged them to move around more.
Put a limit on screen time – I found that setting clear boundaries on screen time helped. So I used it as a reward, and every hour of physical activity could be traded for a specific amount of screen time. It gave my children a sense of control over their leisure time and a motivation to get active.
Make time to explore extra-curricular activities – we explored activities available locally, like nature walks and rock climbing. My daughters were particularly drawn to gymnastics and horse riding, which give you not only physical exercise, but also opportunities for developing a skill and personal growth. They also started doing swimming classes, which they found both fun and calming. A range of activities has allowed them to stay active while developing their interests and passions.
You should be a role model – leading by example has been incredibly effective. By incorporating exercise into my own routine and showing enthusiasm for it, my children naturally began to imitate my habits.
These are just a few strategies that worked for me and my children. It’s crucial to remember that every child is unique, and it might take some trial and error before you find what works best for you and your kids.”