Could a ‘daily mile’ be the answer to Suffolk’s growing obesity issue?
- Credit: PA
One school in Scotland is forcing its children outside, rain or shine, to run a mile – every single day.
Cruel? Or is it the answer to the childhood obesity epidemic and even a way to boost academic performance? Richard Porritt investigates
Junk food. Computer games. Car rides to school.
Whatever the reasons, our children are bulging around the belly – and experts are predicting a public health crisis.
UK-wide, a shocking one in 10 children is now obese when starting school aged four.
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Overall, Britain is the fattest nation in Europe – but if we break those figures down to the home nations, Scotland stands out.
In fact, north of the border all that orange fizzy pop and those deep-fried chocolate bars have left Scotland just behind the US in the world’s fatty league table.
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So one headteacher has decided to take action.
At St Ninian’s, in Stirling, each day for the past three-and-a-half-years, when the teacher yells “daily mile”, the class jumps up and heads to the door.
Only ice or very heavy rain stops the kids running, jogging or walking around the mile course.
Elaine Wyllie, the headteacher, thinks she might have sparked a revolution as the results have been spectacular ? not one of the school’s children is overweight.
It really is that easy to get our children healthy – get them active.
And there is more. Ms Wyllie also claims the daily exercise has left the children more attentive and ready to learn.
The school’s evidence for linking attainment and activity is as yet anecdotal – however, one study in the US backs up the claims.
Active Living Research studied a sample of children over a set period. Some of the children were at schools that supported regular physical activity breaks and others were not.
The findings are not all that surprising – active children are happier and learn better.
Teachers report classes that are more engaged with the subject are less likely to lose concentration.
On top of this they claim active children are less likely to have behavioural problems.
As yet, no school in Suffolk has taken up the mile-a-day challenge, although a number have signed up for a similar initiative called the Golden Mile. This project not only gets pupils active but then links that activity back to their academic learning.
And Live Well Suffolk, the agency tasked with promoting healthy lifestyles across the county, has launched a campaign to urge schools to encourage their pupils to become more active.
The push comes on the back of research by ukactive which suggests half of seven-year-olds are not getting enough exercise.
The Department of Health guidelines say children should be active for 60 minutes each day – but this can include things like walking to school and playing out at lunchtime. Ali Clements, Live Well Suffolk’s Schools and Young People’s Services Coordinator, believes a cultural shift is taking place but there is a still a long way to go.
“Our lives and those of our children are much different now – we all spend more time in front of screens,” she said.
“Even a slight change, like the fact that most children don’t walk to school anymore, has made a big difference.
“We want schools to champion their active pupils and get the other children interested as well; and hopefully they will want to join a local sports team or club.”
As part of the Schools and Clubs campaign, Live Well Suffolk will be training pupils and school council members to become Young Health Champions and asking them to share their knowledge of local groups and clubs with their friends in a bid to encourage others to join in.
The organisation will also be loaning each school 60 pedometers, enabling them to organise inter-class challenges as another way of boosting activity.
And Ali believes getting children active may even be the answer to Suffolk’s academic attainment issues.
“Of course there is a pressure on schools to get good grades – but that does not necessarily mean more time sat at a desk,” she said.
“I think ideas like the mile a day in Scotland are superb. For the teachers to have the chance to take a class which is maybe not engaging as well as it should be and get them to let off some steam is fantastic.
“The fact that it is working so well for that school is strong proof that this or something similar could work here.
“We believe that not only the health of the children will improve but also their grades and their behaviour.
“Of course, I appreciate that time and money are issues for parents but the benefits are enormous.”
For more information about the campaign, log on to Live Well Suffolk’s website