In June 2015, ukactive released Generation Inactive, a report which explored the understanding of children’s physical activity in primary schools and investigated the measures used to track the activity and fitness levels of pupils.
This report shed light on the physical inactivity crisis facing Britain’s children and included recommendations to help empower government, head teachers and the physical activity sector to tackle children’s inactivity. Since publishing this report we have seen progress — such as in the doubling of the PE and sport premium in primary schools, two government childhood obesity reports and welcome investment from Sport England into family activity.
We can’t stop here, as the job is far from done. “Generation Inactive 2: Nothing About Us, Without Us”, aims to go beyond the first edition by providing a framework for understanding the multi-faceted and interactive effects of personal, social and environmental factors that influence children’s physical activity behaviour.
Whilst many organisations have sought to tackle this problem through one single domain, the time is now to take a whole battlefield approach to tackling the war against the challenges faced by future generations.
Physical activity as a public health priority
Physical activity is vital to the development and wellbeing of children and young people. From the very start of life, engaging in physical activity contributes to our physical, social, and emotional development needs.
Physical activity has a beneficial effect from the womb forward. Regular exercise during pregnancy has shown a beneficial effect on babies’ weight, which may correlate with an infant’s obesity risk later on in life. Studies show that babies born to mothers who do not exercise weigh significantly more than babies born to active mothers. From birth, regular physical activity strengthens bones, builds muscle and boosts immune systems; it also improves motor skills, coordination, agility and balance, and increases cardiovascular fitness.
Research has shown swimming for babies as a particular benefit for health, with baby swimmers having better balance and fine motor skills than non-swimmers. Beyond the benefits to health, it is the additional, wider benefits of engaging in positive and meaningful physical activity that positions it as a public health necessity. Children that participate and engage in regular physical activity show higher levels of confidence and self-esteem, have improved sleep, and show reduced feelings of anxiety and stress, tension, and depression.
There is also strong evidence for increased academic performance; enhanced cognitive ability and executive functioning; and improved behavior and attention. All are associated with increases in physical activity. Put simply, active kids do better.
Physical activity experiences and environments also have the potential to bring communities together, provide platforms for social integration and community cohesion, and offer hope to those feeling isolated or lonely. Play aids socialisation and provides environments where children become active and competent participants in one or more communities. Socialisation can affect how children behave, think and communicate whilst interacting with other people.
Positive and meaningful physical activity experiences have the potential to support children’s holistic needs in the face of life’s trials and tribulations and should be used in response to challenges faced by children and young people from the early years to young adulthood. Building the resilience of our children has to be a national priority when it has been recognised that they have never felt under more strain, with recent reports highlighting, for instance, that one in four teenagers self-harm.