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

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


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


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


iii. Chief Medical Officers from the Four Home Countries. Start Active, Stay Active London 2011 (Accessed June 2013)

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Further Reading

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  • By Dr. Gillian Harris, Honorary Senior Lecturer in Applied Developmental Psychology at the University of Birmingham and ITF member Most parents will struggle at some point to get their toddlers to eat certain foods. Is toddler food refusal a sign of an eating disorder. or is it merely a phase? In the run up to Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Gill Harris provides practical advice to help parents tackle fussy eating in toddlers.  
  • By Lucy Upton, on behalf of the Infant and Toddler Forum On behalf of the members of the Infant and Toddler Forum, I am proud to announce the launch of a new infant feeding educational programme, which includes practical resources for frontline healthcare professionals (HCPs) working with parents and infants.