Experts highlight critical importance of active play for childhood development

Today, an independent group of leading experts in child nutrition and development, the Infant & Toddler Forum (ITF), launches its first Activity Factsheet with easy-to-follow tips to help families and carers of children under-5 to encourage physical activity and play as part of everyday life.

The UK is currently facing an inactivity time bomb, with only 32% of boys and 24% of girls in England between the ages of two and 15 getting the recommended amount of exercise.i Given that over 20% of children entering school (age 4+ years) are already overweight or obese,ii there is growing concern that a sedentary lifestyle with too much time in front of screens, or being strapped in car seats and push chairs, is taking its toll on children’s health and wellbeing.

This sort of lifestyle can not only lead to a higher likelihood of later health problems such as being overweight or obese, it can also impact on children’s cognitive development.

Dr Dan Poulter, Children’s Health Minister, Department of Health said:
“Children who are less physically active can sometimes find it difficult to concentrate. Conversely, children doing more physical activity are more likely to concentrate better in school, enjoy good relationships with classmates, and display lower levels of worry, anxiety and depression. I congratulate the Forum on bringing together all of the guidelines on activity for the under-5s and producing an easy-to-use practical resource that includes fun ideas for keeping children active.”

Judy More, paediatric dietitian and member of the Infant & Toddler Forum comments:
“Government guidelines recommend that under-5s who can walk should spend about three hours each day being active. As children tend to become less active as they get older, it’s critical to give toddlers the opportunities to develop their physical and co-ordination skills as early as possible so that they enjoy all forms of physical activity and will continue them into later life. Some parents are not aware how important it is for their pre-school children to be physically active for a minimum of three hours a day and busy parents may need to plan this time into their daily schedules. Activities include simple things like walking, playing in the garden or park or on a climbing frame, running or chasing games, dancing or building a den, anything that makes a child move independently. Most UK pre-school children currently spend two to two and a half hours a day in physical activity,iii so achieving the guideline for some families would mean adding only another half an hour to an hour per day.”

The Infant & Toddler Forum is a partner of the Department of Health’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, with a pledge to take action to improve health. As with all of the Infant & Toddler Forum resources, independent experts have reviewed the content of the Factsheet.

The Factsheet will be available for free download from www.infantandtoddlerforum.org.

For more information and practical advice relating to toddler nutrition and development, visit www.infantandtoddlerforum.org where all resources are available for free download.

Ends

Notes to editors

1. The Infant & Toddler Forum brings together an independent, multi-disciplinary team of experts and practitioners from paediatrics, neonatology, health visiting, dietetics, and child psychology, to share new ideas and to debate the latest thinking in infant and toddler nutrition. Best practice guidance on food and feeding for all young families is paramount for children’s health and wellbeing now and in the future For more than nine years the Forum and its partners have strived to raise awareness and promote positive change in the field of toddler nutrition and feeding behaviour, with all guidance being in alignment with DH increased emphasis on early years intervention.

2. The Infant & Toddler Forum is supported by an educational grant from Danone Baby Nutrition. The views and outputs of the group, however, remain independent of Danone Baby Nutrition and its commercial interests

References

i. Physical activity statistics 2012. British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group
Department of Public Health, University of Oxford

ii. http://bma.org.uk/working-for-change/improving-and-protecting-health/child-health/growing-up-in-the-uk

iii. Chief Medical Officers from the Four Home Countries. Start Active, Stay Active London 2011 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/152108/dh_128210.pdf.pdf (Accessed June 2013)

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Further Reading

  • Dr Gill Harris, Consultant Paediatric Clinical Psychologist   Following his recent recovery from coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has publicly blamed excess weight for his need for intensive care. He has subsequently declared a war on the UK’s obesity crisis and is planning a post-pandemic public health drive to battle the growing problem.
  • Katie Fox, Primary School Teacher   Due to coronavirus, playgroups and nurseries are shut and those children due to start school in a few months will be out of routine and away from friends. It is understandable that many parents are worried about getting their children ready for September. Children learn and progress at different rates so there are no set criteria on what they need to be able to know or do when they first start nursery, but if they have had some experience learning at home it could help to make it a smoother transition. Turn taking games, imaginative play, reading, and developing fine and gross motor skills can promote independence, build confidence and help develop simple skills.
  • Dr Gill Harris, Consultant Paediatric Clinical Psychologist Dr Maddy Harris, Clinical Psychologist   In times of crisis – such as the one we are currently living in – parents may find that the normal stresses of everyday life are magnified and additional worries and concerns emerge. Knowing how to cope may prove difficult, but an approach which has widely been discussed in the media and on social media is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).The premise of ACT is that fears and anxieties are seen as real and cannot be ‘challenged’ away, unlike with cognitive behavioural therapy. By concentrating on our actions we are able to work past our fears. This method may help those struggling with this new chaotic routine we find ourselves in. The Infant & Toddler Forum are here to help with our top tips on how to apply this intervention.