The ever debatable and controversial warning that the UK's children may die before their parents has once again become an issue of national concern in recent months. Whilst YouGov's figure that 30% of the UK's children are now obese is certainly shocking, the real problem here is not obesity, but inactivity. In reality, obesity is a by-product of inactivity and it is the inactivity that kills.
According to a recent YouGov survey, more than half of all the UK's school children aged five- 16 do not walk to school. This to me is a striking figure because studies show that walking or cycling to school provides a third of all exercise for children. Even when in school an average lesson of PE will only result in ten minutes of actual exercise. It is clearly identifiable then that our nation's children are not getting the activity they need to stay strong, fit and healthy, which will inevitably affect them in later life.
It's not just the long term benefits of exercise that we should be aware of. Exercise has the more immediate attributes of lowering stress levels, boosting antibody production, and increasing the body's serotonin levels (low levels have been linked to depression). Following our UK-based walk to school scheme, Beat the Street, 81% of children aged between nine and 13 thought that walking helped them concentrate and stay calmer in class. This correlation between walking and concentration in class has also been backed by the Danish universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus. This means that a child that walks to school will be happier, healthier and more productive in the classroom; a winning combination.
The new school year provides the perfect opportunity for parents to get children active. Here's a few things to try;
1. Turn off games consoles and TVs for an hour - everyone in the family not just children! See what happens.
2. Walk to school - there are lots of reasons why people can't. but, imagine what our grandparents would say about those.
3. Join a club together - as a family you could join the local cycle club, try eco-teering, or join Scouts or Guides for a bit of variety each week.
4. Or, simply, go for a walk each weekend.
You don't have to be the right weight to be healthy. It is perfectly okay to be overweight, as long as you are active and fit. This may sound like a bold and shocking statement but research shows that far more people die of inactivity than obesity. In fact inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death in the world (more than smoking) so we should focus a lot more on what we do rather than what we eat. Make a few changes in your child's life today and they will feel fitter, happier and healthier now and in the future. They will thank you in 20 years time even if they complain about it today.
Follow Dr William Bird MBE on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drwilliambird