Childhood Health and Wellbeing: An Overview

Following the recent release of a number of documents relating to childhood health and wellbeing we have produced a summary of each and linked them in with our work Greater Manchester

We’ve produced short summaries below in response to three new documents recently released and provided links to our work to increase physical activity and Greater Manchester.

Time to solve childhood obesity: an independent report by the Chief medical officer, 2019 professor dame Sally Davies

In her report, Professor Dame Sally Davies calls for action across industry and the public sector to help the government reach its target of halving childhood obesity by 2030. The report sets out a range of recommendations for the government, which are supported by 10 principles, and builds on the work the government has already done.

The report makes many recommendations, which we at GreaterSport fully support and are delighted that the approach being taken is cross-governmental. However we were disappointed to see the report making news headlines around just one controversial recommendation, rather than on the many other positive recommendations made to improve our children’s health.

We were thrilled to see many recommendations to enable children to be more active and make healthier choices more easily. Including;

  • Making the built environment more conducive to physical activity with recommendations such as;
    - Reducing speed limits in school and residential areas to make it safer
    - Introducing car free zones around schools to reduce air pollution
    - Increasing the use of play streets, which also aligns with the Department for Transport recommendations made in August
  • Providing further support for active travel on the school commute by expanding the cycle to work scheme to allow parents to purchase bikes for their children, providing grants to build bike and scooter storage, ensuring play space is maintained and protected and providing dedicated funding toward infrastructure
  • Prioritising children completing adequate physical activity within schools and nurseries including active miles, active play and linking Junior parkrun with areas of highest deprivation and childhood obesity

The report also highlights that to tackle childhood obesity, the approach needs to be whole system, incorporating both diet and physical activity. However we disagree with the suggestion that only 20% of the focus should be on improving opportunities to move more.

The National Child Measurement Programme results released last week highlight that obesity prevalence was more than twice as high for children living in the most deprived areas, with severe obesity almost four times higher. These statistics are deeply concerning, and a clear indication that children in the areas of highest deprivation have the greatest need for interventions to improve their health.

However for those living in areas of high deprivation, making changes to a child’s diet is not simple or for many, realistic, with both the cost of and access to healthy food being a major barrier. It is for these children, for whom physical activity could be a life changing tool in improving their health.  This is also backed up in the RSPH in the ‘Routing Out Childhood Obesity' document – but this document recommends that the ownership should be placed on local authorities to address junk food offer and the reach of advertisements should be reviewed from the advertising standards authority.

Physical activity can be embedded into daily life at no cost to the family, which is vital in addressing childhood obesity, when considering the strong relationship between deprivation and obesity. Whole system changes which embed physical activity into daily life, such as improving infrastructure to enable active travel and implementing The Daily Mile within schools can have massive impacts upon the health of children, at no cost to their families.

Progress on commitments in The Childhood Obesity Plan

  • The Healthy Schools Rating Scheme, a voluntary national scheme from the Department for Education that help schools improve the health and wellbeing of their pupils is now live. You can find out more and sign up on our website here.
  • Work is ongoing to promote a national ambition for every primary school to adopt an active mile, such as The Daily Mile. Find out more and sign up through our website here.
  • Government support will be provided until the end of the academic year for programmes aimed at increasing the rates of children who walk to school
  • Bikeability has been expanded to support secondary school children to cycle safely through a £1 million investment
  • Healthy towns guidance has been published and Department For Transport have an ongoing commitment to increase walking and cycling rates

Commitments for what they’ll do in 2020 related to childhood obesity

  • Launch a second phase of the national Moving Healthcare Professionals partnership programme supporting healthcare professionals to promote physical activity to their patients.
  • Programme development is underway to encourage nurseries to build opportunities into their daily routine for physical activity such as energetic play, walking and skipping

Read the full ‘Time to solve childhood obesity’ report online here.

National Child Measurement Programme statistics released

As previously referenced, the 2018/19 National Child Measurement Programme statistics have also been released which highlight that obesity prevalence is strongly related to deprivation. The data also shows that obesity prevalence in reception has increased since 2017/18 and has remained stable in Year 6 highlighting that more needs to be done to reverse the tide on increasing childhood obesity levels.

Sadly, this is not just a national trend, the statistics for Greater Manchester show an increase in children classed as overweight and obese from the 2008/09 data to the 2018/19 data. For children in reception, 22.7% of children were overweight or obese in 2008/09, which increased to 23.6% in 2018/19; for children in year 6, the increase was greater, from 32.9% to 36%.

Across Greater Manchester’s boroughs, there is a 9.4% difference in overweight and obese children in year 6 between the different boroughs.

Read the full results of the NCMP here.

State of the nation 2019: Children and Young People’s Wellbeing

The report, released by the Department for Education, fulfils a government commitment to bring together the best evidence on children and young people’s wellbeing, identifying trends and drivers so that the right support is in place to help them fulfil their potential.

More than four in five young people aged between 10 and 24 say they are happy with their lives, rating themselves happiest with their family and friends, their health, their school and their appearance. Bullying, including cyberbullying, remains a key reason for unhappiness or poor wellbeing, especially among teenage girls, while sleep and leisure time were also reported as important factors.

The State of the Nation report, which collated the responses of more than 7,000 young people aged from 10 to 24, identified trends that reinforce the government’s emphasis on mobilising mental health awareness and support in schools.

The connection to physical activity

The State of the Nation 2019 report showed that 94.5% of children aged 10-15 report good or very good health, however this declines with age. Whilst no direct link has been made within the report, Sport England’s 2017/18 Active Lives Children and Young People survey highlighted that physical activity levels also decline as children get older. Nationally, 373,100 Year 7-8 students do less than 30 minutes of activity per day, a figure which increases to 656,900 for students in Years 9-11.

In Greater Manchester, the numbers show an even greater shift to inactivity as children get older; with 17,500 year 7-8 pupils doing less than 30 minutes of activity per day, a number which more than doubles to 36,400 for students in years 9-11.

Sport England’s survey also demonstrates a positive association between activity levels and mental wellbeing, with more active children reporting higher happiness levels. Children involved in volunteering to support sport and physical activity also report higher happiness levels than those who haven’t volunteered.

Find out more about Sport England’s Active Live Children and Young People results here.

Download the full State of the nation 2019: Children and Young People’s Wellbeing report here.