Local authority leaders have urged the Government to expand its sports funding in order to help tackle the child obesity problem.
According to the national health body Public Health England, almost a quarter of reception children in England are overweight or obese, leading to potential health problems in later life.
One way to help improve the health of children - and the long-term sustainability of the health and care sector - is outdoor play and exercise.
New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have revealed the average amount of leisure time children spent in parks, countryside, seaside, beach or coastal locations was 16 minutes per day.
They showed children aged eight to 15 years in the UK spent just over an hour of their leisure time on average per day taking part in an outdoor activity, sports-related activity or travelling on foot or by bicycle.
However, due to the Government’s austerity programme, councils are being forced to close down parks. According to a report published last year by the Association of Play Industries (API), between 2014/15 and 2015/16 councils across England closed 214 children’s playgrounds.
Responding to the ONS’ findings, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Community Wellbeing Board, said outdoor activities were ‘hugely important to help tackle the nation’s child obesity crisis.’
‘Councils’ playgrounds and parks, as well as activity-focused holiday play schemes, provide key outlets for children to let their imaginations run free and exercise, to help them enjoy a healthy lifestyle,’ she said.
She called on Whitehall to ‘expand its sports funding’ as part of a long-term approach to tackling childhood obesity.
‘We urge government to expand its sports funding in 12 pilot areas to all council areas as investment in prevention stands to deliver long-term cost savings to the public purse, avoiding the need for NHS treatment further down the line,’ said Cllr Seccombe.
‘To help councils improve children’s daily exercise levels, we are calling on government to reverse reductions to the public health budget and for Sport England to continue its This Girl Can initiative to address the disparity in activity levels between girls and boys.’