17/10/17 – Working Group Report – Physical Activity in Early Childhood

Speakers: Nic Dakin MP and Steve Franks of Water Babies, Sponsors of the Report

All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood

17th June 2017 – meeting notes

The launch of the Working Group report “Physical Activity in Early Childhood”

Download the Report

Chair: Nic Dakin MP

The reception was opened by vice chair of the group, Nic Dakin, who welcomed the members and the sponsors.

Nic Dakin MP

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the launch of a new report by The All Party Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood. It’s called ‘Physical Activity in Early Childhood’ and you should all have received a copy yesterday but if not please have a word with Phil.

Firstly, let me say on behalf of the Group, how very grateful we are that so many  friends and supporters have been able to join us at our launch event today and to those who may be with us for the first time, I’m Nic Dakin, MP for Scunthorpe, and one of the APPG  Co-Chairs. Our Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick MP hopes to join us later after the Rohingya debate finishes in the House. A fellow Co-Chair (sadly unable to be here today) is Baroness Floella Benjamin who needs no introduction from me for her internationally renowned work on behalf of children and who is such a very distinguished ambassador for this Group. This report (the eighth since we were formally constituted in 2014)  has been kindly sponsored by ‘Water Babies’ and we would like to say a big ‘thank you’ to them and especially to their Managing Director Steve Franks who has agreed to make time in his busy schedule to address us today.

Finally, our report has been authored by Helen Clark from submissions and papers provided by a Working Group consisting of members of the APPG with a particular expertise and interest in this issue. Helen and the team are on hand to answer any questions you may have later on.

I want to keep my opening remarks brief because I know that, like me, you’ll be keen to hear from Steve about the important role that swimming can play in the overall health and wellbeing of early years’ children. But just to set the scene; our APPG was formed, and exists to promote policies that advance whole child fitness and health against a background where the nation, like other countries world-wide, finds itself in the  grip of a pretty relentless obesity epidemic. Whether online, in newspapers or via radio and television, there is no escaping it and as successive recent General Elections have shown, this issue is now, of necessity, on the policy radar of all the political parties including the current Government whose National Child Obesity Strategy will shortly be augmented by ‘phase two’ which will consider and make recommendations about the content of fast foods.

It’s good that, at last, those who make this policy are facing up to the challenge of its effects upon the rest of the population, but our contention in both the new report and its predecessors is that as per usual, they are doing too little, too late, failing to achieve consensus about the way forward with all relevant partners, whether national and local government, industry, advertising, health and education professionals and the media. In the same way, policy that is proposed (with the exception of a sugar tax) is reliant upon those involved recognising the need for change and making voluntary changes minus the necessary spur of statutory legislation. As our report makes clear, too, there are many examples of excellent practice operating in the UK today – such as The Daily Mile – but unless these are centrally collated, they will have little effect except in a particular geographical vicinity. We can all learn from each other and it is the responsibility of Government to equip us to do so.

A ‘whole child strategy’ will be a phrase that is immediately recognised by those of you who are familiar with our other reports. In this one too, we make that case. Child obesity and its damaging effects can blight the entire life course and that of succeeding generations. It cannot be dealt with just by changing what, where and how children eat. Nutritional reformation must go hand in hand with beneficial changes to patterns of physical activity for all children and it is important to start as soon as a baby is born – and even beforehand – in the antenatal period for mothers, carers and family. Just as swimming has positive effects and outcomes  that far exceed the traditional safety issues, so physical activity itself can promote mental and emotional health as well as bodily fitness, cognitive and academic progress and a boost for schemes that are socially inclusive, embrace diversity and offer distinct advantages in every respect for children with disabilities.

Last, but certainly not least, there are significant financial benefits. Government must adopt policies that are properly holistic, bringing physical activity for the early years’ child into the forefront, thus saving our over-stretched NHS the burdensome cost of treating avoidable adult lifestyle diseases that could have been headed off in childhood.

Thank you again for joining us today. I hope you will find the report of interest and we will be delighted to answer any questions that you may have. Now without further ado, I will hand over to Steve Franks Managing Director of Water Babies, the sponsor of The All Patry Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood’s eighth report, ‘Physical Activity in Early Childhood.’

Steve Franks, Water Babies (Report Sponsors)

It is a real honour and privilege to be here today and share with you all this ground breaking report that I sincerely hope will continue to challenge the conventional norms and thinking around the importance of getting children more active more often from as young an age as possible and in our particular case at Water Babies, we start swimming from 12 weeks onwards!

So who are Water Babies?.

Well we are an international franchising organisation that currently teaches 51,000 babies and toddlers to learn to swim each week across the whole of the UK, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and more recently we have expanded our scope of operation into, China, New Zealand, Canada, Germany and Netherlands.

As an organisation we are passionate about teaching our parents to teach their children to swim and our swimming teachers, franchisees and administrators are absolutely world class in their care, capability and determination to changing the lives for the better, of the children and families they teach and interact with every day of the week.

As a company we are dedicated to raising standards across our industry sector and supporting the underpinning principles that are articulated so clearly throughout this report

So this report could not come at a more opportune moment. Childhood obesity is at an all-time high. Nearly a third of British children aged 2-15 are obese ( http://www.rcpch.ac.uk/ obesity) and yet we know from multiple research papers that have been published in recent years by various government departments and agencies into childhood obesity that regular activity in early years, positively impacts not only on physical health and wellbeing – but also provides emotional and cognitive benefits.

If we could raise activity levels in childhood and lower obesity, we could potentially save the NHS £4.2b per year, help raise academic standards and aid the wellbeing of millions of young people.

Yet, there remains little or no Government strategy for the activity levels of 0-4 year olds. None!. The release of the Government’s Childhood Obesity Strategy in September 16 and Sport England’s remit being broadened to include 5-14 year olds are certainly welcome developments.

But we need to do more. Everyone in this room has an interest, indeed a passion, for the health and wellbeing of children and young people. If we set children on the right pathway with the right physical activity experience we can reverse the trends of child obesity and inactivity.

Therefore this puts the recommendations in this report in a unique position. Together, we can set the standards and provide guidelines for physical activity for children right from birth. Not just for the good of our industry, but to help shape society for the better.

Unquestionably what you all do is change people’s lives for the better and that is a fact and one which we should celebrate as it is very rare in life that anyone is given the opportunity to change the lives of the people that we touch.

And I have always believed in the art of the impossible, particularly when everyone else around you says it cannot be done.

This is not to say that there has been no activity in this particular space. There have been other major triumphs for our sector alongside Sport England’s child-focussed strategy and the Government’s childhood obesity strategy that certainly demonstrates a political appetite to address children’s activity levels:-

The Childcare Bill (a Conservative manifesto pledge), which is set to provide an allocated amount of free childcare for parents of 3 – 4 year olds. This could create opportunities for increased early years physical activity

Government is increasingly interested on the whole family being active (as demonstrated by the recent Sport England strategy) so the early years will be increasingly difficult to leave out of the equation
Sport England’s remit has been extended to improving the extra-curricular activity levels/opportunities for those aged 5 – 14 years of age (more funding available)
Primary PE and Sport Premium will be doubled to £320m (investment from the sugar levy funds)
£285m a year will also be used to give 25% of secondary schools increased opportunities to extend their school day to offer wider range of activities for pupils, including more sport
Guidelines from the UK CMO which state: physical activity should be encouraged from birth – particularly through floor-based play and water based activities in safe environments; children of pre-school age who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active for 180 minutes (3 hours) spread throughout the day. These are great opportunities for our industry
Unprecedented success at Olympic and Paralympic level putting sport and physical activity at the forefront of the nation’s attention
The recent report by the Curriculum Swimming and Water Safety Review Group  – which focuses on ‘no child leaves school unable to swim’.

But we also have our challenges:-

Despite the evidence of the benefits of early years physical activity, it has received a considerably lower profile in the media and in political debate than education for school-aged children. However, provision for the youngest children was a major policy battleground and resulted in key pledges in most party manifestos

The government’s focus in terms of funding (especially in recent years), tends to be geared towards children of primary school age and older
Physical activity/fitness data for children is not as abundant as data that exists for adults. This is an issue as government decision making is driven and/or influenced by evidence
Currently there are 3 separate frameworks (spanning the Departments for Health and Education) that support Early Years Physical Development, Physical Activity, Health and Wellbeing, all with differing remits which can and does result in confused guidance, delivery and evaluation
How do we best channel the rise of digital technology to enhance physical activity for children and not be a substitute for it?

The report does provide a strong sense of purpose and identity to take on the challenges and capitalise upon the opportunities locally, regionally, nationally and in our case internationally.

We should also positively challenge conventional and entrenched thinking around how the recommendations contained in this report can lead, direct and shape future policy thinking around Physical Activity in Early Childhood.

UK governments, irrespective of political colour, have quite rightly come out in unison in expressing concerns about our obesity epidemic, and the general concern around the health of the nation, what we have been seeking to achieve as a group is contribute to getting children more active, more often from as young an age as possible and in many ways directly and indirectly this report will most certainly contribute to that agenda.

Therefore it is with some indulgent pride that we now have the vehicle in this report and the membership of the APPG to contribute to this important change agenda in a positive and sustained way that will keep the wider community, our partners, children and families much more engaged and motivated to stay physically active.

Finally we do, you do and together we will continue to change people’s lives for the better.

Thank you and enjoy today’s event.