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Generation inactive a ‘ticking time-bomb’ for NHS, warns ukactive report

By Jak Phillips    15 Jun 2015
ukactive is calling for primary schools to test pupils’ fitness in the same way as subjects like Maths and English / Shutterstock.com

Only half of seven-year-olds are meeting recommended physical activity guidelines of 60 minutes per day, according to a landmark ukactive report which lifts the lid on youth inactivity.

Published tomorrow (16 June), the Generation Inactive report examines the extent of inactivity in schools and warns that children will remain a ‘ticking time-bomb’ for the NHS if decisive action is not taken. With the health service needing to make extra savings of £8.2bn a year by 2020, the report cites government figures estimating the direct and indirect costs of inactivity in the UK total £20bn a year.

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by ukactive revealed that less than half of schools surveyed (43 per cent) record the length of time children actually spend being physically active in PE lessons. As a result, the body is calling for primary schools to test pupils’ fitness in the same way as subjects like Maths and English to ensure children are meeting basic guidelines.

“The focus should be on ensuring that children are given all the necessary support possible in order to achieve the 60 minutes of daily activity recommended in the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines,” said ukactive chair Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.

“This does not mean we wish to see 60 minutes of timetabled PE per day. Instead, 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.”

ukactive’s report, which has received backing from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, makes a number of recommendations to overcome the youth inactivity epidemic. It says the government should extend the National Child measurement programme to record fitness levels in addition to the current reading of BMI, as this gives little indication of a child’s activity levels.

There are also calls for the forthcoming Childcare Bill, which guarantees 30 hours’ free childcare per week for children aged 3-4, to include a statutory requirement for a dedicated allocation of time for play, physical activity and cultivating physical literacy skills.

“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,” said Professor Russell Viner from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

“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.”

ukactive has pledged an increased focus on youth inactivity in recent months. The organisation recently launched ukactive Kids as a result of its recent merger with the body for school sport and activity providers – Compass. Meanwhile, this year’s National Fitness Day – the largest celebration of physical activity in the UK – will see schools included in the initiative for the first time, as organiser ukactive targets a bigger and better event than ever before.

Dean Horridge, chair of ukactive Kids and CEO of Fit For Sport, said the Generation Inactive report marks a large step forward in tackling youth inactivity and believes more insightful analysis will be key to changing behaviours.

"Whilst many schools are informally monitoring activity levels, the time has come for more widespread use of Formal Measurement for physical literacy and motor skills; something only one per cent of schools currently do," said Horridge.

"The long-term aim of more standardised data recording is to create a way of building our knowledge base and more effectively targeting our efforts. The dialogue initiated by the ukactive Kids report is one we must all contribute to if we are to resign the concept of i>Generation Inactive to the annals of history, which we absolutely must.

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