Fears over the health of young children were heightened last month when Government statistics showed that 21 per cent of children aged between three and three-and-a-half were overweight, while 9 per cent were obese and 4 per cent severely obese. The data showed the problem had been getting worse in recent years because of children's poor diet and lack of exercise.
Clackmannanshire Council recently hosted a conference to show how nurseries can help battle problems with fitness in young children. Its scheme, called Active Start, has now been running for five years. It was originally set up when primary years sports instructors noticed children were starting school with poor fitness and motor skills.
Active Start provides a qualified sports coach with experience in early years exercise to nurseries in the area. The six half-hour sessions include basketball, gymnastics, golf and orienteering using equipment specially designed for three- and four- year-olds, and games simplified for the children's age and ability.
As well as helping with health and fitness, the games also teach children co-ordination, social skills and use of colour, according to Marjorie Macfarlane, the council's team leader in sports development.
She said, 'The children love it. They lap it up. Nurseries provide a safe and secure environment for children, but can shy away from physical activities.'
Ms Macfarlane said the difference in children who had done the programme was startling and that they could be spotted easily once they moved up to primary school.
The council is also providing training to nursery staff wanting to know how to run exercise sessions, although this is left up to individual establishments. Ms Macfarlane said, 'One size does not fit all.'
A council-run 'Active Library' also allows nurseries to borrow equipment.
The next step for the scheme is to involve parents more closely, telling them about the need for exercise before the programme starts, and helping them to continue some activities with their children at home.