In a new report, ‘Physical Activity in Early Childhood’, the APPG argues that the Government’s strategy, which was published in August 2016, ignores the ‘vital role’ of
physical activity in tackling what it calls the ‘entrenched national obesity crisis’.
The report by the group of MPs and peers, which is co-chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin, says that schemes and finance streams focused solely on improving the nation’s nutrition are not in themselves enough, and that they must go hand-in-hand with the encouragement of physical activity in the pre-pregnancy, antenatal and early childhood periods in order to establish positive behaviour.
The report states, ‘No Child Obesity Strategy succeeds without strong physical activity content, and research finds that physical activity from the earliest days has positive outcomes for emotional, social, academic and cognitive growth as well as bodily health.’
It says another benefit, according to research, is that children with higher physical activity levels in the early years maintain these patterns in later childhood, and cascade them to the next generation.
The APPG goes on to call for the Government to review the role of physical activity in the ‘much heralded’ Child Obesity Strategy, which it says was cut from 60 pages to 13, with many key recommendations axed.
Baroness Benjamin said, ‘Our report is timely reading in the wake of a Government Childhood Obesity Strategy that has been widely criticised for a disappointing lack of resolve
‘The ethos of our group is that childhood lasts a lifetime and patterns set up in a baby’s very first days can have lasting consequences during the course of a lifespan. It’s not rocket science to say that the UK is in the throes of an obesity epidemic – but at the moment, our Government is not rising to the occasion with all the weapons at its disposal.’
In the report, the group also makes a number of recommendations and draws upon examples of best practice, including existing programmes and initiatives to encourage physical activity, such as those run by Outdoor Play and Learning, as well as training courses for professionals on physical development and activity, such as those delivered by Active Matters.
Specifically for the early years, the APPG recommends:
- an increased emphasis on the importance of physical activity across the EYFS;
- the creation of a Healthy Early Years Awards scheme to promote and enhance the progression of physical development and physical activity within the EYFS;
- the EYFS to contain a statutory requirement for physical development and activity, rather than the current recommended requirement;
- a professional body be developed as an ‘umbrella’ organisation to support early years physical development/physical activity professionals;
- the establishment of an early years physical development/physical activity taskforce to inform and drive policy and practice in this field;
- funding be made available for training for early years practitioners in physical activity; and
- the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Education promote workplace nurseries and crèches and draw up a directory in order to promote good practice and cascade skills and expertise.
More widely, it recommends:
- all teachers receive a minimum of 20 hours of training, updated every five years, on best practice in enabling and delivering playtime learning;
- physical development checks for all children at age seven with a follow-up dependent on outcomes;
- cohesive, unified research to be commissioned regarding the benefits of physical activity in a child from birth onwards, including a thorough consideration of the inherent consequences of excessive screen time;
- further research to be commissioned into how physical activity guidelines can be met for young people in the early years with special needs and disability from a social and psychological perspective; and
- an in-depth analysis of the important role that baby and infant swimming has to play in helping to achieve physical, cognitive and emotional goals.
Steve Franks, managing director of Water Babies, which sponsored the report, said, ‘It’s really excellent finally to see a report fully acknowledging the overwhelmingly positive effect of infant and baby swimming and its contribution to the fitness, health and well-being of the whole family.
‘Swimming really is a holistic activity and recognition is long overdue of its strong role in improving bone health, muscle tone, linguistic capability and spatial awareness as well
as motor skills development and cognitive awareness, leading to enhanced academic performance.
‘Investing in all aspects of physical activity is a must for modern life. Swimming should be an integral part of such a strategy and not an “add on” .’
- Find the report here