Leader comment: Getting children moving more is down to parents

A new report says that children in Scotland are among the most inactive in the world.
A new report says that children in Scotland are among the most inactive in the world.
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Many people have fond childhood memories of playing outdoors whether playing football, climbing trees, building dens or even using neighbours’ hedges as a makeshift Grand National course.

So, it must come as a shock to learn that children in Scotland are among the least active in the world. In fact, in a study of 38 countries Scotland came in joint last for taking physical activity.

Public health campaigns have long warned of the nation’s obesity crisis and there have been earlier concerns about children’s inactivity. A first response might be to think these factors must be linked to growing affluence in the western world and the proliferation of phones and other screens. Others might blame our dark nights and cold weather.

But looking to our Nordic neighbours such as Denmark and Norway, where the weather can be just as bad and often worse, we find children are much more active.

What we are seeing could be the result of a major social change which has resulted in a drastic reduction in the time children spend playing outside away from their parents.

We no longer see children playing football in the streets or challenging others to show off their prowess in running or high-jumping. Instead there seem to be far more scheduled activities with even the daily walk to school increasingly a thing of the past.

The Active Healthy Kids Report Card, which released the figures, said protective parents can often restrict children from being physically active in Scotland.

This is a pity, if sometimes understandable. While there are a range of children’s clubs such as football, karate and athletics run by volunteers, these are dependent on adults making a big commitment time wise.

But what must not be forgotten is that inactivity is not just about missing out on direct health benefits, it also means children are losing out on the social benefits and discipline of being part of a team, recognising that everyone has different skills and abilities but, if harnessed, they may lead to a winning streak for all, but that losing is no reason to give up.

But activity does not always have to mean a sport – it can also be walking to the shop, to school, or to meet friends.

One simple idea is that of head teacher Elaine Wyllie at St Ninian’s primary in Stirling who gets her pupils running the Daily Mile and has had her idea adopted by hundreds of schools in the UK and Europe.

There are practical measures that could be taken like clearing streets of cars for a few hours to allow children to play safely.

The reasons for our children’s inactivity, and our risk-averse society, cannot be our environment or fear of crime which is not greatly different from others. We need to take heed of this report, find out why we are making our children so inactive and come up with a plan to turn things round to ensure the health and well-being of future generations. The answers lie with parents.