Physical Activity in Early Childhood – a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood

Early Start Group Wellbeing and Nutrition Physical Activity in Early Childhood – a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood blog

Edwina and Georgia, Registered Nutritionists (RNutr), are members of the All Party Parliamentary Group for a Fit and Healthy Childhood. This week we attended launch of the groups eighth report ‘Physical Activity in Early Childhood’ which the team were delighted to make a contribution to.

The report highlights the importance of physical activity in early childhood and includes:

  • The nature and diversity of  current provision
  • How government, local authorities, voluntary organisations  and business can best promote a rich offer of physical activity opportunities
  • How infant and baby swimming helps to achieve the physical, cognitive and emotional goals for young children and families
  • The relevance of physical activity to children with a mental/physical impairment
  • Socioeconomic issues,  ethnic diversity and the planning system as they affect the provision of physical  activity opportunities
  • The role of advertising, traditional and social media and technology in promoting early childhood physical activity
  • Legislative practice in the UK and models of physical activity promoted by other countries

The report places emphasis on the importance of accessible, sustainable and informative programmes of physical activity as essential components of child health and wellbeing. The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) advises that physical activity should be encouraged from birth. Physical activity needs to be incorporated from very early on to become part of normal everyday life. Trends show if this happens children are more likely to become physically active adults. Children who can walk on their own should be physically active every day for at least 180 minutes (three hours). Children and young people aged 5 to 18 need to do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day and this should range from moderate to vigorous activity.

The report discusses the importance of joint working, driven by the Government, between local authorities, sporting bodies, the voluntary sector, industry, media and advertising. The Wellbeing and Nutrition team’s Association for Nutrition (AfN) certified Physical Activity Guidelines training is highlighted as an example of good practice as it supports early years settings to promote regular activity building the foundations to carry into adolescence and adulthood. Our training places emphasis on the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework (EYFS) which supports practitioners to plan the care and learning for children that is right for each stage of their development. There are seven inter-connected areas of learning and development that must shape educational programmes in early years settings. One of the prime areas of learning ‘Physical Development’ supports children to be active by developing their co-ordination, control and movement and to understand the importance of physical activity.

The National Child Measurement Programme results for 2014/15, show that 19.1% of children in Year 6 (aged 10-11) were obese and a further 14.2% were overweight. Of children in Reception (aged 4-5), 9.1% were obese and another 12.8% were overweight. This means a third of 10-11 year olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year olds were overweight or obese. There is a debate as to which is more important in managing children’s and adults weight. Is it a question of nutrition or physical activity or both? A combined approach focusing on both diet and physical activity has been found to be the most effective and regardless of weight, physical activity is important for everyone. We should all aim to eat a healthy, varied diet based on the principles of the Eatwell guide to meet our energy requirements. Families need regular meals and healthy snacks to get all the energy they need as part of an active lifestyle and to support children in getting the most out of their choice of physical activity.

Summary of key recommendations from the report which link to our early years settings:

  • Physical activity in the early years to be embedded in all relevant policies nationally, regionally and locally
  • Funding to be made available for training for early years’ practitioners in physical activity
  • All teachers, from EYs/Foundation through to Headteachers to receive a minimum 20 hours of training, updated every five years on best practice in enabling and delivering playtime learning. Such training should include coverage of policy areas, forward planning, communication, safety/risk, design, materials resourcing and reflective practices
  • Every setting aiming to provide a high quality of outdoor play provision (under 5s – primary school) to meet the 18 areas identified by OPAL as a minimum requirement.
  • Creating a Healthy Early Years Award scheme to promote and enhance the progression of physical development and physical activity within the Early Years’ Foundation Stage curriculum
  • Increased emphasis on the importance of physical activity across the Early Years’ Foundation Stage curriculum
  • Prioritising the role of physical activity in assessment of physical development in the early years curriculum
  • Government to establish physical activity/healthy eating pilot programmes based on existing good practice for evaluation and potential national roll-out
  • The Early Years Framework of Delivery to contain statutory requirement for physical development and activity rather than the current ‘recommended’ requirement
  • Key central government requirements to be established for early years’ physical activity
  • A curriculum framework that endorses outdoor play and active learning and an inspection system that challenges its ineffective delivery
  • Designate a Physical Development/Physical Activity co-ordinator in every early years’ setting
  • Create ‘National Quality Guidelines for Early Years Physical Development and Physical Activity’
  • Review the Ofsted inspection requirements for ‘Early Years Physical Development and Physical Activity’
  • Review the Physical Development component of the EYFS to reflect the demands of the Chief Medical Officer guidelines and ensure a focus on gross-motor skills in both indoor and outdoor environments
  • A designated PD/PA co-ordinator champion for every setting with responsibility for liaison with staff, parents, families and communities linked to Healthy Early Years’ Schemes

It is positive to see, in the London Borough of Newham, the Wellbeing and Nutrition team are already taking forward some of the key recommendations, through our tiered training and health award provisions. We have seen fantastic engagement in our provision to date and we hope more early years settings will participate in the provision of support available in the coming months. You can contact the team for more information on our training and health award. For more information on our work with the All Party Parliamentary Group for a Fit and Healthy Childhood you can read the testimonial from Helen Clarke, Chair of the Working Group.

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