Current facts and figures in the UK suggest these are dark times for the nation’s fitness and health. Newly released statistics paint a gloomy picture that seems to point to impending extinction by fatness and lack of exercise. All very worrying but is it really accurate? Well, yes and no…
Hearing that 1 in 3 children under 15 is now overweight or obese in the UK is certainly alarming. And for the Royal College of GP’s and 11 other organisations to call for the Government to set up a Cobra type emergency task force only adds further credibility to this concern. In an open letter to the Chief Medical Officer for England it was stated that, ‘An entire generation is being destroyed by a diet of junk food and fizzy drinks’.
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I’ve been working with children for many years and set up Athletics Academies in schools with my old mate Daley Thompson.
Who better to do this than a double Olympic gold medallist, sporting legend and unquestionably one of the greatest athletes who has ever lived?
We are not trying to unearth the next Daley Thompson or Jess Ennis, we’re just trying to engage children, get them active and having fun and it is clear to us that, given the chance and encouragement, kids absolutely thrive on physical activity and are entirely open to the healthy lifestyle messages too.
This is the perfect time to reach them. But what happens outside of these arranged activities and where is the encouragement and enthusiasm going to come from then?
There’s concern that overweight and even technically obese is becoming the new ‘normal’. GP’s have stated they are dealing with a generation of patients who could die before their parents. Children as young as 7 are developing the type of diabetes normally associated with middle-aged weight gain!
So we look to the next generation up and the young parents. Unfortunately the picture is also bleak there. Apparently young women in the UK are the fattest in Western Europe with 25% exhibiting weight and body fat composition that is seriously damaging to their immediate health.
But here’s the conundrum – there is absolutely a fitness boom which began some years ago and is well set to continue for years to come. Looking around the world the fitness market is very strong. The gym industry in the UK alone, despite turbulent times over the last few years, is worth £2bn+ annually and employs around 40,000 people. Personal Training accounts for another £600m, then you’ve got all the equipment, clothing, sports clubs, magazines, books, DVDs, Apps…They’re all doing very well.
Yet whilst the fit are getting fitter and the fat are getting fatter. We have to narrow this polarity. Much is made of ‘Role Models’, and back in the heady days of TV’s Gladiators we were all very aware of this responsibility. Getting into 15 million homes and entertaining several generations of families was a huge privilege and one we took seriously. And in recent times with the success of GB Olympians right across the full spectrum of sports and our rugby players, cricketers, golfers, tennis player, racing drivers amongst others have all been winning the highest honours in their sports and attaining World No.1 rankings. We’ve certainly not been short of great role models for both sexes and all age groups. Yet we still find ourselves in this parlous situation.
So what do we do and how do we diminish those stats dedicated to the unfit, overweight and unhealthy?
Softly coercion? Scary hard facts? It seems like both are well worn paths. What’s annoying is that there is no great mystery about any of this. Stop eating cheap, processed food. Don’t smoke, don’t drink in excess, put the tablet down, get away from the computer and TV screen and move more. These simple instructions, over time, will have a huge impact.
Perhaps we should stop looking to the adults to take the lead and it’s the children who might better spread the word. They are the future after all and from all the kids we work with it is so evident there’s a definite joy derived from physical activities of one sort or another. Good habits can be ingrained at this point, when they are full of life and energy. Maybe it is the children who can be the inspiration and those sedentary, junk eating, smoking adults can look to the youth and take a leaf from their book.