New guidance states that under-fives must be active for three hours a day. How easy is this in London? Gyms and swimming lessons for toddlers do exist but are prohibitively expensive for most parents and suitable outside space is lacking.
It seems no one is safe from the dreaded obesity scare. Amidst predictions that by 2050 the majority of our children could be overweight, England’s chief medical officer has decreed that once a child can walk, they must be active for three hours every day. Apparently most toddlers are only active for two and a half hours a day. That’s close enough, isn’t it? Who monitors these things anyway?
Keeping a toddler active for three hours a day doesn’t actually sound too difficult on the face of it. Most under-fives I know won’t even sit still for five minutes, despite the desperate attempts of the parents to get them to just chill out for a few moments so they can drink their cuppa. Head to any playgroup and you’ll notice the multitude of half-drunk cups of tea, hastily plonked down on window sills by the frazzled parent or carer as they race off to retrieve their charge from landing on another small person. The question is, does this count? Or do we actually need to get them to “exercise”, as in send them off to the London gyms and plonk them on the rowing machine for an hour?
Well, apparently under-fives need to get out of breath for it to count. So letting them totter round the kitchen table for a while probably isn’t enough. Dame Sally Davies et al have kindly listed some suggestions for toddler activities: skipping (urm, perhaps an over-optimistic view of two-year olds’ capabilities?); riding a bike (ditto); and scaling a climbing frame (you need a climbing frame for this, though). Swimming is also on the list but unless they can actually swim, I can’t see that bobbing up and down in the water is that energetic. Running counts of course, which is okay as long as they’re co-ordinated enough not to land on their face. It seems a bit harsh to make a baby run when they have only just learnt to walk.
The research shows that exercise early in life is important for physical and mental development. Fair enough, let’s not argue with that, most parents would agree that too much television isn’t great for any child. Achieving a full three hours a day of exercise for a very small child is the tricky bit though. The main trouble for a lot of parents is finding the space, time and cash to do these activities. Many, many more (dog poo-free) parks and playgrounds are needed in London. Gyms for babies do exist but they cost the earth – in the region of £15 - £20 for a 45 minute weekly session. Swimming isn’t much cheaper. One ‘free’ suggestion is that instead of putting your little one into their buggy as you head off to the shops, you make them walk. This sounds fine in principle, but how long ago was it that the people who wrote these guidelines had children? It would take the best part of the day just getting to the shops. Let alone managing to get any shopping done once you get there. You’d have to leave as soon as you’d arrived to avoid the imminent tantrums of a tired, hungry toddler. Imagine doing the school run on foot with a one-year old in tow and making it to school on time.
There is so much scope for parents to feel guilty about the way they bring up their children. It starts in pregnancy with the long list of dos and don’ts, then there’s breast feeding, organic food, five-a-day, going back to work, schooling…these new guidelines are just another thing to fret about. Most people in London don’t have a huge garden for the children to run around in. Perhaps if more money was spent on cleaning up the parks and providing centres for under-fives to let off steam safely, rather than doing research and publishing guidelines, we wouldn’t have this issue in the first place.