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Winter call to reverse fitness slide

Tuesday December 22nd, 2009

People were urged to plan some Christmas walks today as new findings confirmed the falling fitness levels of Britain's children.

Experts said working to reduce children's weight was not enough - as English children are losing fitness at a rate twice the rest of the world.

According to a new analysis of children in Essex, UK, fitness levels have been falling by eight per cent a decade.

The study, in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, is the latest to raise alarming questions about the health prospects of Britain's rising generation.

The British government says it has programmes in place to improve both weight and fitness - and believes the situation is improving.

The British Heart Foundation today echoed the researchers' concerns that measuring weight - through body mass index, which adjusts weight for height - is not enough.

Cathy Ross, a BHF cardiac nurse, called for "kids to turn off the TV and their computers and go outside and get active in the snow this Christmas."

She said: "Ten-year-old girls monitored in this study tended to be less fit in 2008 than 1998, but this wasn't accompanied by an increase in weight. The findings highlight that body mass index doesn't always reflect cardio-respiratory fitness.

"Research shows that fitness and fatness are both important for health in children and adults, and we should try to keep ourselves, and our children, physically fit as well as maintaining a healthy weight."

The British government called for the nation to burn off their Christmas lunch with after-dinner walks.

A typical Christmas dinner is 1,470 calories, according to the British Nutrition Foundation.

The Ramblers, which promotes walking, backed the call.

Chief executive Tom Franklin said: "Winter is a great time to go walking - there's nothing like a crisp winter day and the kids will really enjoy themselves if it snows.

"But it's also important to stay active and make the best of the short daylight hours by getting out of doors, helping you walk off the mince pies and avoid the post-Christmas blues."

Public health minister Gillian Merron said the Walk4Life campaign aimed to boost fitness.

She said: "Whatever the weather, a traditional festive walk is a great way for families and friends to avoid that sluggish feeling and have a more active Christmas."

The latest research was conducted by Dr Gavin Sandercock, of Essex University, Colchester, and involved measuring fitness levels in some 300 ten-year-olds in 1998 and last year.

He writes: "It is worrying, therefore, that the cardio-respiratory fitness of boys and girls in the present study declined significantly. Perhaps more worrying is the rate of this decline."

Archives of Disease in Childhood 2009; doi 10.1136/adc.2009.162107

Tags: Child Health | Diet & Food | Fitness | Heart Health | UK News

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