Childhood obesity

Following on from my “miracle cure” post I wanted to follow up the subject and look at something that is very much in the public eye at the moment childhood obesity.  

According to the National Obesity Forum (

“Data on 4–11-year-olds, from three independent cross-sectional surveys published in the British Medical Journal, showed that from 1984 to 1994 the percentage classified as overweight increased from 5.4% to 9% in English boys, and from 9.3% to 13.5% in English girls. Data from the Health Survey for England indicate that in 2001 approximately 8.5% of 6-year-olds and 15% of 15-year-olds were obese.”

It is my opinion that as with most things prevention is always better than a cure.  Encouraging and modelling healthy and active behaviours will surely show our children how to live productive and fulfilled lives with hopefully minimal need for medical interventions.  I would like to ask “how much physical activity do children under 5 years old and young people 5-18 need to do to keep healthy”?.


Being physically active every day is important for the healthy growth and development of babies, toddlers and young children.

BabiesActive baby image

Babies should be encouraged to be active from birth. Before your baby begins to crawl, encourage them to be physically active by reaching and grasping, pulling and  pushing, moving their head, body and limbs during daily routines, and during supervised floor play,  including tummy time.

Once babies can move around, encourage them to be as active as possible in a safe, supervised and nurturing play environment.


Active toddler imageChildren who can walk on their own should be physically active every day for at least 180 minutes (3 hours). This should be spread throughout the day, indoors or outside.

The 180 minutes can include light activity such as standing up, moving around, rolling and playing, as well as more energetic activity like skipping,  hopping, running and jumping.

Active play, such as using a climbing frame, riding a bike, playing in water, chasing games and ball games, is the best way for this age group to be physically active.

All children under 5 years old

Active 5 yr old imageChildren under 5 should not be inactive for long periods, except when they’re asleep. Watching TV, travelling by car, bus or train or being strapped into a buggy for long periods are not good for a child’s health and development.  There’s growing evidence that such behaviour can increase their risk of poor health.

All children under 5 who are overweight can improve their health by meeting the activity guidelines, even if their weight doesn’t change.  To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, they may need to do additional activity and make changes to their diet.

What counts as light activity for children?
Light activity for children includes a range of activities such as:

  • standing up
  • moving around
  • walking at a slow pace
  • less energetic play

What counts as energetic activity for children?
Examples of energetic activities suitable for most children who can walk on their own include:

  • active play (such as hide and seek and stuck in the mud)
  • fast walking
  • riding a bike
  • dancing
  • swimming
  • climbing
  • skipping rope
  • gymnastics

Energetic activity for children will make kids “huff and puff” and can include organised activities, like dance and gymnastics. Any sort of active play will usually include bursts of energetic activity.

Physical activity for young people aged 5-18

Active teenager image2To maintain a basic level of health, children and young people aged 5-18 need to do:

At least 60 minutes (1 hour) of physical activity every day, which should be a mix of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as fast walking, and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as running.

On three days a week, these activities should involve muscle-strengthening activities, such as push-ups, and bone-strengthening activities, such as running.

Many vigorous-intensity aerobic activities can help you meet your weekly muscle and bone strengthening requirements, such as running,  skipping, gymnastics, martial arts and football.

What counts as moderate-intensity aerobic activity?
Examples of activities that require moderate effort for most young people include:

  • walking to school
  • playing in the playground
  • skateboarding
  • rollerblading
  • walking the dog
  • riding a bike on level ground or ground with few hills

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity means you’re working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. One way to tell if you’re working at a moderate intensity is if you can still talk but you can’t sing the words to a song.

What counts as vigorous-intensity aerobic activity?
Examples of activities that require vigorous effort for most young people include:

  • playing chase
  • energetic dancing
  • aerobics
  • running
  • gymnastics
  • playing football
  • martial arts, such as karate
  • riding a bike fast or on hilly ground

Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity means you’re breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit. If you’re working at this level, you won’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

What counts as muscle-strengthening activity?

For young people, muscle-strengthening activities are those that require them to lift their own body weight or to work against a resistance, such as climbing a rope.

Examples of muscle-strengthening activities suitable for children include:

  • games such as tug of war
  • swinging on playground equipment bars
  • gymnastics
  • rope or tree climbing
  • sit-ups
  • sports such as gymnastics, football, basketball and tennis

Examples of muscle-strengthening activities suitable for young people include:

  • sit-ups
  • push-ups
  • gymnastics
  • resistance exercises with exercise bands, weight machines or hand-held weights
  • rock climbing
  • sports such as football, basketball and tennis

What counts as bone-strengthening activity?

Bone-strengthening activities produce an impact or tension force on the bones that promotes bone growth and strength.

Examples of bone-strengthening activities suitable for children include:

  • activities that require children to lift their body weight or to work against a resistance
  • jumping and climbing activities, combined with the use of playground equipment and toys
  • games such as hopscotch
  • skipping with a rope
  • walking
  • running
  • sports such as gymnastics, football, basketball and tennis
  • martial arts

Examples of bone-strengthening activities suitable for young people include:

  • dance
  • aerobics
  • weight-training
  • water-based activities
  • running
  • sports such as gymnastics, football, netball, hockey, badminton and tennis
  • skipping with a rope
  • martial arts

Children and young people should take part in activities that are appropriate for their age and stage of development.

Healthy weight

  • Children and young people who are overweight can improve their health by meeting the activity guidelines, even if they don’t lose weight.
  • To reach a healthy weight, they may need to do more than the recommended 60 minutes of activity a day and also make changes to their diet.

What can we do?

Don’t sit for too long  – Children and young people should minimise the amount of time they spend sitting watching TV, playing computer games, and travelling by car when they could walk or cycle instead.

Being positive, effective role models ourselves now is surely the best way to minimise the effect that obesity will have on our future health.




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