This is another of those posts where I find myself scratching my head and wondering whether the world is going mad. The other day, I posted about what I termed 'day orphanages' and reflected on how our current government promotes things which are ‘in the best interests’ of children, which actually seem to miss the point entirely, and neglect some of the most fundamental needs of childhood. Later that evening, I curled up on the sofa with a leading medical journal, and was stunned by some reports on levels of childhood activity and rising levels of obesity. These findings are summarised in this BBC news article. Basically, their findings show that strategic interventions, after school exercise clubs etc simply do not replace the merits of an old fashioned childhood where children were free to play out of doors for long periods of time and expend energy. Somehow, in a culture which prides itself on high levels of education and understanding, we are taking a huge step backwards when it comes to promoting healthy lifestyles for our children. The irony is that many parents who work extra hours to be able to spend a lot on childcare and extracurricular activities may in fact be storing up a legacy of bad habits and poor future health.
To quote an editorial in the British Medical Journal, ‘Physically active children are more likely to remain active into adulthood, and maintaining a physically active lifestyle throughout life has considerable health benefits. Current UK guidelines state that all children and adolescents should engage in physical activity of moderate to vigorous intensity for at least 60 minutes a day. However, recent objective data from the Health Survey for England confirmed that only 33% of boys and 21% of girls currently meet these guidelines, and further research has shown a dramatic drop off in activity levels from childhood to adolescence. Thus developing effective interventions to promote physical activity in children is crucial’. The article concludes, ‘Because a wealth of evidence supports the association between an active lifestyle and many facets of child health, it is essential that funders support research from multidisciplinary teams that seek to study which sustainable environmental and policy changes result in long term increases in physical activity and reductions in sedentary time.’
Hello? Basically increasing numbers of research studies have shown that we are setting up a generation of children with long term health problems relating to obesity and physical inactivity, and thus we need to invest large amounts of time and effort into developing interventions which promote activity in childhood and active lifestyles. Am I being far too simplistic in suggesting that children are simply encouraged to play outside, and have restricted access to sedentary activities such as computer based games and television? (Touch of irony, I know that there are reasons for the change in culture, but how many of these are excuses?) Many of my friends and family think we are strange for the amount of time we spend out of doors, and are slightly astonished by the distances walked by our children from a young age. It can actually be discouraging - I touched on this very issue in an early post on this blog, where I considered how as parents we need to prayerfully make choices and decisions regarding raising our children, and to be fully persuaded in our own minds, rather than tossed to and fro by the wisdom of this age. The combined experience of walking past the infant school and then reading these medical articles encouraged me that some of our choices are indeed wise and best!
Again, overlapping with previous recent posts, Charlotte Mason had a lot of wisdom in this area. She thought that a key component of childhood development involved spending as much time as possible out of doors up until the age of about six or seven, after which, outdoor activities remained prominent. This time should be spent exploring nature, learning to really celebrate God’s manifold creation and engaging in imaginative play; this can often be followed by related art or craft activities to consolidate the learning (I have recently been enjoying watching my boys painting using ‘autumn colours’ and discovering the diverse shades which can be produced by mixing the primary colours of red and yellow – often inspired by a morning in the park). Whilst out of doors, children are simply being active. Not activity for the sake of exercise, but developing the good habits of an active lifestyle.
It makes me sad when I see intelligent, well-educated parents making choices which are so unhelpful to their childrens’ development. It flabbergasts me that in a so called highly developed nation, there is a call for concerted efforts to find solutions to the epidemic of obesity and its consequences in our children.