Young people must be encouraged to play more in order to avoid the “timebomb” of childhood inactivity.
That is the warning in a new health drive aiming to tackle obesity.
Safefood is urging people to ‘Bring Back Play’ in light of the latest research which reveals children in Northern Ireland are the lowest ranked in all of the UK when it comes to the recommended physical activity guidelines.
Less than half of seven-year-olds here are getting the right amount of exercise, and one in four primary school children are overweight or obese.
Small bursts of activity are to be encouraged, said Professor Marie Murphy of the Sports and Exercise Research Unit at the University of Ulster.
“The inactivity of our children is a timebomb, but if we, as parents, promote being active to kids as both fun and enjoyable, we can begin to change that and make a big difference to their future health.
“Being active for 60 minutes a day doesn’t have to be all in one burst: 10 or 15 minutes here or there all add up, as long as it gets you breathing harder than normal, makes you feel a bit warmer and gets the heart pumping it is likely to be moderate or vigorous intensity and help you meet the guidelines. We all need physical activity to lead a full life and if parents join in as well, that’s a great way of spending fun time together as a family.”
Olympic gold medallist Dame Mary Peters and former Northern Ireland footballer Gerry Armstrong are supporting the call, citing their memories of traditional outdoor games including hopscotch and hide-and-seek.
Dame Mary said: “It is up to us to encourage parents to get their children away from watching television and off social networking sites and being more active for their long-term health.”
Gerry said: “Nowadays I make sure my daughters lead a very active lifestyle.”
Top tips to get the family active
l Make exercise an everyday habit.
l Walk or cycle to school if you can.
l Limit the amount of time your children spend watching TV, on the computer, iPod or smartphone.
l Head for the nearest park with the kids and take a ball to kick around or a Frisbee to throw.
l Develop a daily routine where you get the children to go outside where they are much more likely to be active.
l Start playing games as a family like rounders, or for younger kids, what about a game of tag?
l Walk to the nearest shops or to visit friends and relatives instead of taking the car.
l Bring the dog for a walk.
l Encourage your child to look at their activity levels by wearing a pedometer or wrist gadget to measure the distance they walk.
l Get on your bike – as a family!