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Parliamentarians call for more action to promote physical activity in early childhood

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on a Fit and Healthy Childhood has called on the Government to rethink the role of physical activity in its 2016 Child Obesity Strategy.

The cross-party group of MPs and peers, which is co-chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin, has published a new report, ‘Physical Activity in Early Childhood’, which argues that the Government’s strategy ignores the ‘vital role’ of physical activity in tackling the ‘entrenched national obesity crisis’.

The group argues that accessible, sustainable and informative programmes of physical activity are essential components of child health and well-being, and that the UK is falling behind other countries in this area. Children with mental or physical disabilities or from poorer socio-economic backgrounds and diverse cultural backgrounds are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to their access to and take-up of physical activity.

The report makes a number of early years-specific recommendations, including:

  • an increased emphasis on the importance of physical activity across the EYFS;
  • the creation of a Healthy Early Years Awards scheme to promote and enhance the progression of physical development and physical activity within the EYFS;
  • the EYFS to contain a statutory requirement for physical development and activity, rather than the current recommended requirement;
  • a professional body be developed as an ‘umbrella’ organisation to support early years physical development/physical activity professionals;
  • the establishment of an early years physical development/physical activity task force to inform and drive policy and practice in this field;
  • funding be made available for training for early years practitioners in physical activity; and
  • the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Education promote workplace nurseries and crèches and draw up a directory in order to promote good practice and cascade skills and expertise.

 Wider recommendations include:

  • all teachers receive a minimum of 20 hours of training, updated every five years, on best practice in enabling and delivering playtime learning;
  • physical development checks for all children at age seven with a follow-up dependent on outcomes;
  • cohesive, unified research to be commissioned regarding the benefits of physical activity in a child from birth onwards, including a thorough consideration of the inherent consequences of excessive screen time;
  • further research to be commissioned into how physical activity guidelines can be met for young people in the early years with special needs and disability from a social and psychological perspective; and
  • an in-depth analysis of the important role that baby and infant swimming has to play in helping to achieve physical, cognitive and emotional goals.

Read PACEY's blog about new guidelines from the Chief Medical Officer on physical activity in the early years - why they are they important, and what they mean for early years practitioners.