THE BLOG

Could Schools Do More to Encourage Physical Activity?

28/04/2014 15:27 BST | Updated 28/06/2014 10:59 BST

Whether it be a television, a tablet, a mobile phone, or the latest gadget on the market - It's no secret that today's kids spend far too much time in front of a screen.

Obesity among children is on the rise, partly a result of the sedentary lifestyle that is now embraced by so many young kids (the other culprit, of course, being poor diet).

Modern technology has made staying indoors far too tempting for all of us, and our time spent outside; playing sports and engaging in physical activity, is suffering as a result.

As a nutritionist with an interest in children's health, I was shocked by a recent YouGov poll showing 43% of parents would describe children as either 'couch potatoes' or physically 'unfit'. But home entertainment is only part of the problem. What was equally concerning, was two thirds of those parents said schools were not doing enough to help combat the growing problem.

The World Health Organisation sees childhood obesity as one of the most serious global public health challenges for the 21st century. Overweight kids are at higher risk of developing health issues as they get older, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, and arthritis. What's more, they may be teased or bullied and suffer from low self-esteem.

With childhood obesity rates in the UK at an all-time high, fitness for children is extremely important. So why are we not doing more to reverse the trend?

From early childhood education, right through to Secondary school, teachers are under pressure to drill reading, writing, and math deep into their students' brains -- and there are only so many hours in the school day. What is often forgotten is teaching the importance of physical activity and leading a healthy lifestyle.

Engaging kids in physical activity from a young age is crucial. It teaches children about goal setting, preparation, participation, cooperation and team work and is also clinically proven to increase focus and productivity in the classroom. After all, school is supposed to be about learning, and what parent doesn't want their child to ace the test.

We're often telling our kids to slow down and sit still, but what we really need to be doing is encouraging them to 'let loose and run free'. What's more, the social benefits from meeting and running with other children are long lasting. If these aren't reason enough to encourage your kids to be physically active, there are more. Active kids sleep better, eat better, have strong bones, strong muscles and, best of all, feel really good about themselves.

So how do we implement such a scheme that not only engages kids, but makes physical activity fun? I think I've found one way, so I've joined Go Run for Fun, a new schools initiative with the simple mission of getting as many children as possible between the ages of 5 - 10 having fun, running.

Go Run for Fun achieves many of the aims set out in the Government's Moving More Living More initiative and already has the support of councils, schools, parents, Olympians and children across the UK. What's great about this scheme is it encourages all children to 'give it a go', have fun and take part - regardless of ability.

The programme also provides schools with a great opportunity to formalise active leisure and participation in sport. It is great vehicle for the teaching of most curriculum areas and for the development of a range of personal skills. The events create an ideal opportunity for goal setting, achievement planning, and practice in making healthy lifestyle choices. The focus is not on who is the fastest or who is the best - it is simply all about taking part, being active and being fit.

Modern technology has seen a real cultural shift in the way young people approach physical activity - a new way of life that encourages kids to remain as still as possible. UK children are becoming less active and there is a major concern that this will impact the health of a generation later in life. It is time parents, schools and Government stopped talking about this sedentary generation and implemented more programmes like these to reverse the trend.

The GO Run For Fun Charitable foundation launches 1st of May 2014 at London's Olympic Park. For more information visit www.gorunforfun.co.uk