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Active play is crucial to childhood development, say childcare experts

An independent group of leading experts in child nutrition and development has issued a set of top tips to help nursery staff and parents encourage young children to take part in more physical activity.

The Infant & Toddler Forum (ITF), has launched its first Activity Factsheet showing ways that physical activity can be integrated into everyday life.

The Infant & Toddler Forum is a partner of the Department of Health’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, with a pledge to take action to improve health.

Dr Dan Poulter, Children’s Health Minister, Department of Health said: “This easy-to-use Factsheet gives families fun ideas for keeping children active, while bringing together all of the guidelines on activity for the under-5s – helping to give children the best start in life.”

He added: “Physical activity has massive health benefits for young children as well as helping boost self-confidence and develop social skills. The early introduction of physical activity encourages children to continue to live active lifestyles throughout childhood and into adulthood.”

The UK is currently facing an inactivity time bomb, with only 32 per cent of boys and 24 per cent of girls in England between the ages of two and 15 getting the recommended amount of exercise, according to a study carried out by Oxford University.

There is growing concern that a sedentary lifestyle with too much time in front of screens, or being strapped in car seats and push chairs, is taking its toll on children’s health and wellbeing.

This sort of lifestyle can not only lead to a higher likelihood of later health problems such as being overweight or obese, it can also impact on children’s cognitive development.

Judy More, paediatric dietitian and member of the Infant & Toddler Forum said: “Government guidelines recommend that under-5s who can walk should spend about three hours each day being active. Some parents are not aware of this recommendation and their pre-school children may spend too much time seated in car seats, in pushchairs and in front of screens. Busy parents may need to plan their daily schedules to include three hours of physical activity for their toddlers.

“By spending time playing with their children, they will be helping them to acquire physical co-ordination skills and an enjoyment of physical activity.

“Activity includes simple things like walking, riding a bike or scooter, throwing, catching and batting balls, playing in the garden or park or on a climbing frame, chasing games, dancing or building a den – anything that makes a child move independently. Most UK pre-school children currently spend two to two and a half hours a day in physical activity, so achieving the guideline for some families would mean adding only another half an hour to an hour per day.”

The Factsheet is available for download free from www.infantandtoddlerforum.org.


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