UK & World News

  • 10 December 2013, 11:19

Obesity Epidemic Is 'Mass Child Neglect'

The lack of a national policy to ensure children become more active is a form of mass child neglect, according to a new study.

It claims that despite a wealth of evidence showing the benefits of regular exercise, leadership and strategy on the issue are "totally absent".

The report is from the British Journal of Sports Medicine, an influential research organisation which has drawn its findings from a number of experts from the worlds of sport and medicine, including Sam Allardyce, Richard Weiler, Gregory Whyte and Emmanuel Stamatakis.

They say regular exercise in childhood can help boost academic performance, curb anti-social behaviour and determine patterns of physical health and wealth in adulthood.

But only a third of boys and a quarter of girls in England meet the minimum recommended daily physical activity levels.

They warn that one in three youngsters leaving primary education is obese, most of whom will become obese adults.

The authors say: "Despite the well-accepted benefits of physical activity and the recognised importance of schools in delivering the crucial physical literacy and activity opportunities, the erosion of physical education in schools combined with ever-reducing play facilities has the opposite effect.

"Worse, the amount of school curriculum time children spend in physical education and activity is neither monitored nor known by any educational or regulatory authorities.

"And there is no statutory minimum requirement for schools to devote a specific amount of time to physical education."

Despite the 2012 Olympic promises to protect school playing fields, these continue to be sold off, say the authors, and although 150m has been pledged for each of the next two years to improve the physical education of primary school children, this translates into just 9,500 per school.

"The Government has allocated 28.4m for competitive school games, but this approach doesn't suit all children, and there is some evidence to suggest that it benefits those who least need it - the wealthiest and most privileged."

They highlight the fact that Team GB came third in the medals table at the 2012 Olympics, but that the UK also took gold and silver in the European obesity league tables last year.

"The minimal funding, lack of interest and absence of a child physical activity strategy strongly support the notion that the state is failing to act to prevent harm against children and failing to meet children's basic physical needs likely to result in the serious impairment of their health and development.

"This is quite literally indistinguishable from the government's own definition of child neglect," they conclude.

They call for current and future governments and educational bodies to act to create a comprehensive child-centred national physical activity policy to give children from all backgrounds and sporting abilities every opportunity to be active on a daily basis.

In response to the BJSM report, a Government spokesman said: "This Government is taking decisive action to harness the Olympic spirit and make sure every child has the opportunity to be fit and healthy.

"We have extended our ring-fenced funding for primary schools to spend on sport to 2015/16 - with a total of 540m now going directly to head teachers to improve PE and sport in their schools."

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