This week I opened the newspaper. Big mistake.
Actually, I didn’t even have to open the newspaper. The story screamed at me from the front page of The Times: ‘Obesity will send today’s children to early grave’.
In a new report the British Heart Foundation revealed that 80% of children are not eating the recommended five portions of fruit and veg a day. Half eat chocolates, sweets and fizzy drinks each day. Combine that with the fact that the majority of children do not get the recommended hour of exercise per day, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for childhood obesity, chronic heart disease and early death.
That’s certainly the British Heart Foundation’s worry. Their chief executive, Simon Gillespie, told reporters, ‘These children are increasing their chances of developing coronary heart disease in later life – in some cases not that much later in life.’
But, Gillespie said, there was something children and parents could do. Children need to ‘get outside on a summer’s day rather than sitting in front of a computer.’
In other words, the solution is really simple. More time outside increases children’s activity levels, reduces obesity and generally boosts health.
Nature is the ultimate, free wonder-drug. It has been shown to improve concentration and well-being in both children and adults. University students with views of nature perform better in exams. Exercise taken in green space reduces ADHD symptoms in children threefold compared to exercise indoors.
Why are these mental health benefits important? Because this week the Care Quality Commission released figures showing prescriptions of methylphenidate drugs (commonly used to treat ADHD) have risen by over 50% since 2007.
The media blame the rising prescriptions on lazy university students taking drugs like Ritalin in a bid to improve their concentration and boost their grades. I blame it on a grades-obsessed culture that piles pressure on young people to perform, but casts them aside as lost to the economy and society if they fail.
But I also think healthcare professionals should make better use of the outdoors. Dr William Bird is leading the way. Walking for Health, the organisation he founded, is working with the Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support, championing health walks in nature as a way to increase people’s activity and improve health.
At the risk of sounding like an ageing hippy, the outdoors really is a cure-all, dude. Not only does spending time outdoors reconnect children with nature. It makes them happier and healthier too. What’s not to like? Unless you’re a Ritalin salesman.
If you agree, I urge you to join a movement to get British kids outside and enjoying all the benefits of nature.
This week I read that children in St Thomas, South Wales, have been threatened with arrest for playing football in the street. Police sent letters to the boys’ parents telling them that the kids were causing a nuisance by kicking the ball around by the bus stop at the end of their road. I’m really worried about this kind of heavy-handed approach to kids’ play from the authorities. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill currently going through parliament would make this sort of behaviour – that could cause ‘nuisance or annoyance’ – punishable with an ASBO-like behavioural injunction.
In the film Project Wild Thing, we make and distribute NO BALLS – basically footballs with NO BALL written on them – so that children could play under NO BALL GAME signs…
You can read the article on the Huffington Post website here