How active are our children?

 

The importance of leading an active lifestyle is constantly hammered home, if not by the media then by our peers; and it seems to be working. The number of gym memberships bought in the UK rose by 5.1% between March 2016 and March 2017. Clearly, as a nation, we’re trying to lead a healthier lifestyle but is it the same story for our children?

According to a report by The Guardian, 75% of children spend less time outside than prison inmates. UN guidelines state that prisoners should receive a minimum of one hour outdoor exercise per day, yet the majority of our children play outdoors for less than 60 minutes a day. Shockingly, one fifth of children did not play outside at all on a typical day. In contrast, children were found to spend twice as long playing on tablets and other devices as they were playing outside.

For parents, this can be difficult to understand; some of our most treasured childhood memories are from time spent outside climbing trees, riding bikes, and playing with friends. Admittedly, we didn’t have the lure of advancing technology to deal with.

A National Trust survey, again reported by The Guardian, shows that children today now spend just half the time their parents did playing outside. Children today play outdoors for approximately four hours a week, while their parents were outdoors for a total of 8.2 hours per week on average.

 

Childhood obesity & activity

The UK is currently battling a problem with childhood obesity. While the popularity of fast food and unhealthy snacks undoubtedly plays a part in this problem, could childhood inactivity be playing a part in the UK’s problem with obesity in children?

Overall, children are developing weight problems later on, at approximately the age when their interest in technology will pique. Data from 2006/07 shows that 10% of children at reception year were obese; in 2014/15, this figure had marginally reduced to 9%. However, in contrast, 19% of children in Year Six of school were obese in 2014/15, up from 18% in 2006/07.

How do these obesity rates align with childhood physical activity? Looking at the most recent data available from 2008 and 2012, it seems that children are becoming less active.

In 2008, 28% of boys did 60 minutes or more physical activity per day. By 2012, this figure had dropped to 21%. It was a similar story for girls: 19% met the 60 minute per day recommendation in 2008. In 2012, this fell to 16%.

Overall, boys aged 11-12 have the largest proportion of low activity of all male age groups. Girls are least active between 13 and 15 years old. Generally, the trend shows that the older children are, the less physical activity they will undertake. For parents, this underlines the importance of encouraging outdoor play and regular physical activity through sports clubs in the early years of a child’s life, instilling a healthy lifestyle mentality when they’re young.

 

The importance of outdoor play

With obesity rates rising and physical activity levels dropping, it’s clear that UK children can benefit from spending more time playing outside on a daily basis. Outdoor play is a fundamental part of growing up, offering countless benefits for a child’s development. It’s something that adventure playground specialist Infinite Playgrounds are huge advocates of.

As well as the associated health benefits of physical activity, playing outside creates a space for imaginative play, tapping into their creativity as well as naturally supplementing physical and emotional development.

Likewise, playing outdoors gives children a chance to improve their social skills, interacting with others and making new friends. Unlike playing with indoor toys, there can be a slightly higher level of risk associated with outdoor play. From tall slides and swings, to roundabouts and climbing frames, outdoor playgrounds give children a chance to confront risk, pushing their own boundaries, develop confidence and explore.

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/25/three-quarters-of-uk-children-spend-less-time-outdoors-than-prison-inmates-survey

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/27/children-spend-only-half-the-time-playing-outside-as-their-parents-did

http://content.digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB20562/obes-phys-acti-diet-eng-2016-rep.pdf

 

 

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