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Child Health: Play

Volume 765: debated on Monday 12 October 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce a national strategy for play as part of a holistic approach to child health and fitness.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare an interest as the co-chair of the All-Party Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood.

My Lords, local authorities have responsibility for commissioning services to enable healthy lifestyles, including active play. However, recognising the health benefits to children and young people from play, since 2013 we have been providing Play England with funding of £1.1 million to promote play. Public Health England’s Change4Life campaigns have supported families to make healthy choices, including being active, and we continue to support school sport, with investment of £222 million since 2011.

My Lords, the latest report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood concludes that play is important to a child’s healthy physical and mental development. It found that, despite government funding for school sports, 20% to 30% of those who do not participate in sport are obese children—the precise group that we need to focus on and target. What are the Government doing to engage with these children? Does the Minister agree that reducing opportunities for play has contributed to the rise of childhood obesity and that play is part of the solution in a whole-child health strategy? Will he agree to meet me to discuss the findings of the play report?

My Lords, when I am asked a question like that in such an engaging way, the answer has to be yes—and I look forward to it. I congratulate the noble Baroness and her team on the work that they have done with the all-party group on the fit and healthy child—I believe that the report is due to be published later this week. It almost goes without argument, and you do not need a lot of academic literature or UN conventions to know, that play is hugely important in the development of a child. On that, we are absolutely agreed, and I look forward to discussing with her ways in which we can help more in that regard later in the week or next week.

My Lords, perhaps I could come, too; it sounds a jolly interesting meeting. Does the Minister agree that while fitness is very important for young people, so, too, is diet? Would he like to comment on the story on the front page of the Daily Telegraph this morning which suggests that his boss has prevented Public Health England publishing a report which shows the direct link between too much sugar and obesity? Will he confirm that the Secretary of State has prevented PHE publishing the report and can he tell me what action the Government propose to take to reduce the amount of sugar in foods that children take?

I regret that I have not seen the report in the Daily Telegraph, so I cannot confirm or deny what was written in it. What I can say is that the Secretary of State regards the fact that one in five primary school-age children is now obese as being, in his words, a “great scandal”. The report on childhood obesity is due to be produced, I think, before the end of the year, and certainly within the next few months. I imagine that it will say that the problems are a combination of lack of exercise, lack of play and nutrition—but we will have to wait and see.

My Lords, I am not sure whether my noble friend saw the report recently of a primary school which has introduced a running challenge where the children run one mile every day, to enormous benefit both mental and physical. Following on from the Minister’s previous remarks about best practice, is this something that the department could encourage other schools to do?

I wonder whether Members of this House might like to set an example in that regard as well by running a mile a day. There is no doubt that exercise is good for you. Not only is it good for all the problems associated with weight but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that exercise helps with mental health problems. Whether you are running or on your bike, I am wholly in favour of it.

My Lords, although exercise is very important in terms of the heart and so on, the real answer is to eat fewer calories. We may criticise politicians of one party, but does the Minister realise that politicians of all three parties kept on saying that the answer to the obesity epidemic was exercise when it was nothing of the kind? It was eating fewer calories.

Clearly, my noble friend is right: nutrition and diet are fundamental to the whole debate about obesity. That does not alter the fact that exercise is also very good for you.

Do the Government recognise that there is another group of children who must be considered—those who have illnesses limiting their mobility for a variety of reasons, some acquired and some congenital? The role of physiotherapy in paediatric departments is essential to ensuring that they can grow and develop and become as independent as possible. I declare my interest as president of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.

My Lords, I suggest on this occasion that we go to the Lib Dems as this Question started with the Lib Dems, although I acknowledge that there were two Conservative speakers in a row, which should not have happened.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if we are dealing with a sports policy that talks about competitive sport, getting some idea of creative play and competitiveness within play is vital? If we have a sports policy, it must have a foundation based on something like my noble friend suggested.

There is no question that competitive sports have a huge role to play, but many children do not wish to participate in competitive sports, so having resources and time made available for less competitive activities such as yoga, pilates or dance is also very important.