Children as young as eight must be encouraged to engage in regular exercise to ensure they enjoy a fit and healthy lifestyle, according to a new study.
Researchers from both Newcastle and Strathclyde University found that if youngsters go without daily exercise, there is the potential of an obesity "time bomb" occurring in the UK.
A fascinating discovery made by the team was that young girls are more likely than young boys to fall into a sedentary way of life.
While it is generally known that young girls become less active than boys by the time they reach secondary school, it was surprising to find that this change begins much earlier than previously thought.
According to the study, which was published in the open access journal PLoS ONE, girls are already less active from the exceptionally young age of eight.
Newcastle University’s Dr Mark Pearce, lead author of the study, which was funded by the National Prevention Research Initiative, said that the central importance of physical activity in maintaining good health is evident enough to get "our kids more active".
"What we hadn’t known until now is how young we need to be catching them, or the reasons that lay behind their lack of activity," he said.
"One of the important things is that most girls don’t see sport as cool," reasoned Dr Pearce. "We need to be tackling these issues earlier by encouraging girls to exercise, by providing a wider range of opportunities than are currently on offer and by ensuring they see positive female role models, particularly in the media."
The report also showed how children in general spend around four per cent of "awake time" engaged in what is described as "moderate to vigorous" physical activity.
This equates to around 20 minutes a day, which falls significantly short of the ideal minimum of 60 minutes per day.
A stark picture is presented by the authors of the report of the nation's youngsters, which concludes that a physical way of life is fast diminishing.
Physical activity is not only essential to wellbeing but also goes a long way to achieving a happy and fulfilling childhood," said professor John Reilly, of Strathclyde’s Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences.
"However, the children we studied had only a third of their recommended activity, far short of the level which is best for them. There is an urgent need for interventions, at home and at school, which will help primary school children become more physically active."
The study, which involved 500 eight to ten year olds being kitted out with activity monitors, examined in detail the amount of exercise the participants were undertaking on a daily basis, helping form an accurate picture of how routine this was.
This involved recording data derived from children doing a variety of movements and activities, including skipping, playing games, running around and climbing stairs.
Another interesting discovery was that children who had older fathers were more likely to fall into an inactive way of life. The reasons for this were less to do with the age of dads, but the fact that men who are older tend to be in much senior posts, which tends to involve them working much longer hours.
Some argue that more needs to be done in schools. Speaking to the Daily Mail, Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, pointed out that because children lack motivation to exercise in their free time, the responsibility falls to schools.
"Exercise alone won’t bring down obesity levels but it is desperately important to the health of the child," he added. "And it will make them concentrate better in the classroom and improve their behaviour."
Posted by Jeanette Royston
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