Last week saw the launch of the new P.E and School Sport manifesto by the Youth Sport Trust (YST, 2015), which sets out where additional action is needed by the future government in order to tackle the increasing problem of physical inactivity in the UK. The manifesto, titled ‘Unlocking Potential’, argues for a joined up, cross departmental approach to PE by the health, education and sport sectors in order to ensure that every young person has access to sport opportunities and high quality instruction. The manifesto is designed to act as a blueprint, identifying three key areas of concern:
Launching the manifesto at the House of Lords, the chair of Youth Sports Trust Baroness Campbell argued that reversing the current inactivity crisis amongst young people was a serious challenge that left unsolved would continue to undermine a child’s ability to achieve in the classroom. Campbell (2015) rightly noted that a lack of activity is associated not only with a decline in physical health and an increase in obesity, but also a broader, less obvious effect on a child’s ability to succeed at school and in life. A study by Syvaoja et al (2014) highlighted the link between inactivity and lowered cognitive prerequisites of learning in school-aged children. The study measured the physical activity and sedentary time in 224 children in Finland, and evaluated cognitive functions including visual memory, executive functions and attention span. High levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity was associated with good performance in a reaction time test, and a higher level of self-reported computer game play (a widespread trend amongst young people) was linked to weaker performance in test measuring shifting and flexibility of attention. Syvaoja et al (2014) therefore, proposed that physical activity would benefit attentional processes, and excessive video game play and computer use may have unfavourable influence on cognitive functions.
To remain healthy or to improve health, current guidelines state that young people should do three different kinds of physical activity each week: aerobic, bone-strengthening (such as running) and muscle-strengthening activity (such as push-ups). To maintain a basic level of health. Children and young people aged 5 to 18 years old should complete at least one hour of moderate to high intensity exercise (such as cycling, football, gymnastics, fast running, or tennis), and minimise the length of time spent watching TV, playing computer games or travelling by car (NHS, 2013).
Recent data shows that only 21 per cent of boys and 16 per cent of girls met the current recommendations for daily physical activity, and that levels of inactivity for both genders has continued to rise on average (British Heart Foundation, 2014). Another key finding was that the proportion of students participating in 120 minutes or more of curriculum PE each week actually decreases as pupils get older. At the same time, sedentary behaviour among older children increased in comparison to their younger counterparts. The detrimental effect of inactivity goes further than the classroom, with inactive students missing out on personal, social and emotional development opportunities in comparison to their more active peers. Sport allows a child to work within a team, to lead others, and to compete; all necessary skills for later life.
The objectives included in the manifesto aim to reverse this inactivity trend. PE and school sport can have a powerful impact on a young person’s development, and ‘Unlocking Potential’ argues for the prioritising of physical activity at the next election in order to improve the nation’s health and boost the UK’s education and sporting prospects. As more employers complain that young people entering the workforce lack essential skills, PE and sport will allow children to develop resilience, explore their strengths and build employment prospects. Additionally, applying the recommendations in the new manifesto would lead to a reduction in the high economic cost brought on by increased susceptibility to disease, reduced quality of life, and the social care costs. Ultimately, a healthier and more active society will benefit in a range of aspects improving wellbeing and quality of life, and should therefore be made a priority.