So the big headline from the budget was the introduction of a sugar tax – an extra few pence added to the cost of a can of full-sugar drinks like Coke.
The government apparently thinks this is the key to solving the issue of childhood obesity.
I’m not so sure.
Surely decades of declining activity have a bigger part to play than the odd soft drink here or there?
According to the biggest report of its kind, published in 2015, this government has overseen the most alarming fall in PE lessons ever seen – to well below two hours a week. The Youth Sport Trust also says there’s a major fall in links between schools and community sports clubs, meaning our kids are doing less sport than ever.
Flea isn’t a naturally sporty child.
She enjoys playing games, and always tries hard, but it’s never been something that comes naturally to her – she was slow to pick up some of the co-ordination needed for ball games, and as a shorter child, she’s never going to run as fast as some of her peers.
Without fail, every school report tells me that my child tries hard at PE and always has a smile on her face, but her fitness isn’t as good as some of the other kids.
And every term, I sort of roll my eyes.
Because the truth is, I think I do my bit.
Flea attends cubs on a Monday, which usually involves playing games of one sort of another. On a Tuesday, she goes to a life-guarding club, where she swims for an hour. On a Saturday she goes to climbing club for a couple of hours. On Sunday, she goes to a 90-minute karate class.
On top of that, she rides her bike and her skateboard, walks the dog… she’s fairly active, at home.
But at school? Not so much.
There are two PE lessons a week, but now Flea’s in her final year of primary school, the access she has to other school sports is reduced. Many of the activities her schools runs after school are selective, or they’re only open to younger kids.
There are two after-school classes Flea could take. One is on the day she sees her cousins after school, so we skip that one. Instead, she attends a weekly after-school hockey club, but if there’s a team fixture then the club is cancelled, because staff are needed to help with the match. It’s cancelled almost as often as it runs.
I know Flea’s school is probably better than many schools, and I’ve discussed the issue with teachers, and they’re absolutely doing their best with the resources they have available to them – but it’s not ideal. In a typical week, Flea gets less than two hours physical activity at school to counter-balance all those hours sitting at a desk.
At an age when all the research suggests that kids are beginning to lose interest in sport (70% of kids quit organised sport activities by the age of 13) I think our schools should be offering EVERY opportunity for our children to be active. And the government’s money would be far better spent supporting THAT rather than taxing sugar.
And aren’t these sporting opportunities almost more important if our kids aren’t naturally gifted at sports? Shouldn’t those kids be given a strong message that, hey, you might never be on the A Team but you can still have a lot of fun, and be competitive, and get dirty on the sports field? Or you can take part in sports where you’re competing against yourself rather than bigger kids – Flea loves climbing, karate and swimming a lot more than team sports, for example.
My gut feeling is that encouraging our kids to have a love of sport – no matter what level they might end up playing at, or what the sport might be – is going to do a lot more for their health than slapping 10p onto a bottle of fizzy drink.
What do you think?