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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 November, 2004, 09:45 GMT
Football helps children kick the habit
The government's plan for addressing public health calls for more action to combat child obesity.

One of the recommendations of the Public Health White Paper, published on Tuesday, is for schools and communities to work together to encourage children to adopt healthier lifestyles.

Schools in Colchester have teamed up with the local football club to do just that.

Children playing football
Children play football and learn about diet, exercise and drugs

The thinking is simple. Children love playing and watching football, so who better to tell them they need to take their health seriously than footballers.

Colchester United set up its community sports trust five years ago in a bid to use its influence in the community constructively.

The schools health awareness project is just one of the programmes it runs.

The club's coaches hold eight-week football courses in about 100 local primary schools each year.

As well as honing their football skills, children are encouraged to consider healthy diets, exercise and the consequences of drugs.

They are more likely to pay attention to healthy lifestyle messages if it is linked to sport
Sean Hillier, of Colchester United

Players from the League One team also come into the school for question-and-answer sessions with the pupils aged seven to 11.

Sean Hillier, schools liaison officer for Colchester United, said: "The fact is children are really into football.

"They are more likely to pay attention to healthy lifestyle messages if it is linked to sport than say if a head teacher or politician says 'don't do this, do that'.

"We have found the kids really respond to it. They get to play football but are also told why it is important to stay healthy.

"When the footballers come into the schools they explain how they stay fit, what they eat and, of course, what it's like to be a footballer."


Schools are equally enthusiastic. Gail Bennett, deputy head teacher at Hamford Primary School in Walton on the Naze in Essex, which is taking part in the programme, said the course was proving beneficial.

"It is obviously helps them with their football and in the end benefits the school team."

But she also said the course went beyond that.

Children playing football
Linking football with healthy lifestyles gets children interested

"It is about children enjoying exercise and taking part in team sports.

"It is good for the children to see footballers - who do have a higher status than teachers - to get the message across about exercise.

"We hope it will encourage them to do sport outside school and become healthy."

And with the Public Health White Paper expected to recommend more partnership working between community groups, Ms Bennett added schools were increasingly become more proactive in encouraging children to live healthy lives.

"I think schools are taking up the challenge. This school is interested in promoting a positive healthy lifestyle -that is why we are working with Colchester United."

Classes start for obese children
30 Sep 04 |  Nottinghamshire

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