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Health experts warn under-5s must be more active

Researchers at Loughborough University say more needs to be done to address the 91% of 2-4 year olds who are not active enough to be healthy.

Early years specialists in the University’s British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health (BHFNC) have launched a manifesto urging politicians and policy makers to embed early years into the physical activity guidelines.

Being active regularly is good for all of us, but for the under-fives it can be vital to their future health and wellbeing. Ninety-one percent of children aged 2-4 are currently not meeting the UK physical activity guidelines for their age group of three hours of activity a day, which means they are missing opportunities to positively benefit their health and establish healthy behaviours that carry on into adulthood.

Being physically active at a young age is proven to support brain development, and enhance bone health and muscular development, as well as have non-physical benefits to social and cognitive skills development and emotional wellbeing.

The manifesto for physical activity in the early years was launched today by the BHFNC and its Early Years Advisory Group. It sets out the Centre’s key asks to ensure every child has access to high quality physical activity opportunities from birth.

The BHFNC is calling on politicians and policy makers to embed early years into physical activity policy nationally, regionally and locally to ensure that physical activity is supported across the UK at home, in early years settings and in the community.

Within this supportive policy environment, the BHFNC has four key asks.

1. Awareness
Comprehensive awareness raising, to ensure health and education professionals and families are aware of, and act upon, the Chief Medical Officers’ physical activity guidelines for the early years (2011).

2. Education
Greater emphasis on the importance of physical activity across the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum, alongside clear guidance and training for early years practitioners on how to promote and develop children’s physical activity.

3. Environment
All children in the early years should have safe, stimulating and accessible physical activity and active travel opportunities in their community.

4. Health
Health professionals should track the physical activity levels of children in the early years alongside other health behaviours. These results should be shared with parents whilst supporting them to take positive action to increase physical activity levels among their children.

Director of the BHFNC, Elaine McNish said: “This manifesto outlines how we can create an environment for our children that encourages them and stimulates them to be active. This manifesto is a call to policy makers to ensure that early years settings are supported to create active environments. We know that active children are more likely to become active adults so it’s vitally important to get it right at the beginning to give children opportunities to play from a young age and develop a lifelong love of being active.”

Lisa Young, Project Manager, Prevention & Behaviour Change at the British Heart Foundation said: “We know that physical activity is an important component of a healthy lifestyle for everyone and the under-fives are no different. Developing a love of being active from a young age is important as we know active children become active adults and active adults are healthier adults. As a nation we need help to recognise the importance of physical activity for early years and the contribution this makes to general health and heart health in the future.”

The British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health is part of the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine – East Midlands, based in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University.

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