UK schoolchildren lose fitness during 'lazy summer holidays'
5 August 2016
British schoolchildren are losing 80 per cent of fitness gained during term time through ‘lazy summer holidays,’ new research from ukactive has revealed.
Dr Chris Beedie, Reader in Applied Sport and Exercise Science at Canterbury Christ Church University, was principle investigator and co-author of the report, which found that that term-time improvements in physical activity were being eroded by sedentary school breaks.
Children taking part in a new fitness measurement programme were able to run a further 120 metres in July – before the summer break – than in the same test in September. Completing an average of 740 metres of a shuttle run test ahead of the summer holidays compared with 605 metres at the start of the new term.
The rate of increase in children’s BMI also increased by two and a half times during the summer break, rising from an average of 17.64 in the spring to 18.26 in September.
Dr Beedie said: “Our research showed that children who attended schools which delivered regular activities had a more limited increase in BMI and a much slower fitness drop-off during the summer.
“No-one wants schoolchildren to be over-measured, but we do want our children to grow up healthy and to live long lives. We believe that measures used to monitor children should focus on what really matters i.e. their health and fitness capacity and not simply on variables such as weight and waistlines. If we don’t have some measures in early childhood, then by the time we do start measuring them as young adults, many will already be on the path to poor health and shorter lives.”
The research, which was carried out with more than 400 children in 14 schools over a 13 month period, was the first study of its kind to measure fitness levels both before and after the summer holidays.
The study’s authors claim that the government’s recent promise of a £500m cash-injection into school sport through the sugar levy should also be used to provide incentives for children and parents to be active over the summer, where action is needed.
Previous research has indicated that half of seven year olds in the UK do not meet the Chief Medical Officer’s minimum physical activity guidelines, creating a ‘ticking time-bomb’ of health issues in future years.
ukactive Chair Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson has previously called for the government to include measures of cardiorespiratory fitness to the Child Weight Measurement programme as a first step to fix the problem, stating that we should focus on the ‘health of our hearts, not just the size of our waists.’
This new research – which points to the feasibility and scalability of physical activity measurements in schools – should be used by headteachers and the education sector to fully explore the potential to introduce evidence-based cardio-respiratory testing in schools.
Notes to editors
Canterbury Christ Church University
Canterbury Christ Church University is a modern university with a particular strength in higher education for the public services.
With 17,000 students across Kent and Medway, its courses span a wide range of academic and professional subject areas.
- 95% of our UK undergraduates were in employment or further studies six months after completing their studies*.
- We are one of the South East’s largest providers of education, training and skills leading to public service careers.
*2013/14 Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey