Exercise for pupils: 'The move will be welcomed by many parents'

IT is not before time that schools have been set firm targets of delivering two hours of physical education for all schoolchildren in a fresh effort to tackle rising child obesity.

The move will be welcomed by many parents in Edinburgh, less than four weeks after the Evening News revealed that only three primary schools out of 100 were meeting the recommended guidelines of providing 120 minutes a week of exercise – in fact some children received as little as 45 minutes a week of PE.

The government has already stated that tackling the country's high levels of alcohol abuse is their main health priority in the coming years, but schools minister Maureen Watt yesterday announced that battling childhood obesity was now the "high priority" for younger generations at a time when the Government's own statistics suggest 9.1 per cent of primary one schoolchildren are officially obese and 4.4 per cent severely obese.

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The drive to lower these figures through encouraging pupils to exercise in classes, at breaks and after school will be tied in with more healthier eating options in school canteens and even instruction for pupils in reading food labels. In addition Ms Watt revealed new measures which aim to take sweets and fatty foods off the menu in schools, which will come into effect from August in primaries.

Edinburgh has already gone some way to reducing obesity levels among youngsters. Fizzy drinks and unhealthy snacks have been removed from vending machines in schools and those who take packed lunches to schools are encouraged to choose healthy foods.

But with school dinner take-up rates already among the lowest in the country it is to be hoped that the effect of a recent 10p a day rise in school meal charges in the city does not result in more children from poorer backgrounds heading to the local chip shop or burger van for a lunchtime snack.

And at a time when obesity rates among the young are being driven up by TV couch culture and high numbers of children are happy to play console or computer games rather than exercise, it is no mean feat that the council has seen an increase in the numbers of youngsters using its leisure facilities. But the council too has to do more to ensure that proper facilities exist in schools.

It is a far from satisfactory situation that in this day and age many children in the Capital have to travel out of school to receive PE lessons. It is to be hoped that during the current school rebuilding programme that existing facilities are safeguarded and that new schools are given adequate space to allow pupils to exercise on site otherwise it is going to be nigh impossible in some schools to deliver the government's demands.