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With exercise and obesity hot topics at the moment, the release of the much-awaited Childhood Obesity Strategy yesterday is timely. But with widespread criticism of this apparently watered down version it does seem that this is a major opportunity wasted.
Undoubtedly, the issue is a complex one. There are many possible contributory factors to the appalling fact that one third of UK children leave primary school either overweight or obese.
Our times have conspired to produce this perfect storm. The rise of technology for recreation means children’s leisure time is largely sedentary. The increase in road traffic – not to mention the media’s over-representation of the dangers children face ‘out there’ – means that children don’t ‘play out’ as they used to.
In most families both parents work so there isn’t the time given over to home cooking and eating together that there used to be, and with 24/7 instant access to high-fat, high-carb, high-sugar food, who needs fresh ingredients anyway? The food industry knows that humans have evolved to seek out calorie-dense foods; it’s little wonder we’re struggling with an obesity epidemic.
In the issue of childhood obesity, what we eat and how much we move are crucial, and here at the FSPA it’s our business to concern ourselves with the latter. But that’s not to dismiss the vital role that diet plays in whether or not a child will face the many lifelong disadvantages associated with obesity.
Our Associations in the play industry, most notably the Association of Play Industries (API), have been campaigning for ways to introduce more physical activity into the school day. Well-designed, high quality outdoor facilities for play, learning, sport, PE and physical activity make a huge impact on school life and children’s educational experiences, not to mention childhood obesity.
As children retreat indoors on their screens, the benefits of play for physical and mental health are being lost. Not only are children’s bodies not moving enough as they are designed to, there are implications for children’s psychological well-being and social skills. The API’s Nowhere To Play campaign has been calling for more and better children’s play facilities across the UK.
The FSPA will be joining the voices insisting that the government sticks to its word, and that the revenue from the ‘sugar tax’ will, as they have promised, be invested into programmes promoting physical activity and balanced diets in schools.