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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 April, 2003, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Can school sport be saved?
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News Online education staff

School sports day
Fewer children are taking part in physical activities
For years school sport has been on the decline.

Thirty years ago, a typical child's day included a walk to and from school, a PE lesson and a kickabout or other street game with friends.

Because of safety fears and lifestyle changes, car rides, TV-watching and computer games-playing are now more common.

Youngsters are getting less exercise and the resulting health problems of obesity and heart disease are becoming more obvious.

The Youth Sport Trust, a charity set up in 1994, is working to reverse this decline.

In conjunction with the confectioner Cadbury, it has started the 9m Get Active initiative.

Foam javelins

This aims to promote sport in schools, through extra equipment and training.

YST external relations officer Helen Vost said: "Often inner-city schools don't have much space . One of the things we've focused on is promoting sports which can be played in small areas.

"If you play table tennis, for instance, you need quite a big table. Many schools don't have either the tables or the space.

"So we've developed equipment to put a net on a normal table or even a bench. It's all about innovative thinking."

Other ideas developed include foam javelins. These are easier to throw for younger children, who later progress to proper javelins.

Catching training is also offered, using covered balloons rather than hard balls, so as not to put off primary school pupils.


Youngsters are actually consuming fewer calories than they did 30 years ago, but the obesity rate among them doubled between 1990 and 2000.

The reason is inactivity.

Ms Vost said: "The experience is that children are much more sedentary than in the past.

"There's a whole host of reasons. From a safety point of view, fewer children are walking to school.

"We also have the competion from more sedentary activities, like playing computer games and watching television."

In partnership we could make a real difference to the quality of young people's lives
Richard Caborn, sports minister

Physical activity in schools has fallen by 70% in the past 30 years.

Today, young people get on average less than 90 minutes' exercise a week, according to the British Nutrition Foundation.

Meanwhile, television viewing time has more than doubled in the past 30 years to 26 hours per week.

Sales of large areas of school playing fields during the 1980s and 1990s have not helped the situation.

In 1999, 39% of PE teachers claimed that sporting facilities and equipment were fairly or wholly inadequate, up from 24% in 1994.

The scene is bleak, but there is some sense of change for the better.

'Bad diet'

The government has set a target of children taking part in two hours of physical activity a week.

There are also currently 201 specialist sports schools, with plans to increase this figure to 400.

But is a deal with a confectionary company the best way to encourage physical activity?

Under Get Started, chocolate-buyers save vouchers, which they in turn donate to schools for them to trade them in for sporting equipment.

Darren Gough
Darren Gough will share the joys of cricket

Cadbury is attaching tokens to 160 million of its chocolate bars, with each one reclaimed contributing 15 pence to the scheme.

The company's Tony Bilsborough denies any double standards: "It's not some sort of marketing campaign to children. The effort will take place right across the age groups.

"This is about the whole community taking part.

"We take issue with the idea of good or bad food. You have good or bad diets. As part of a balanced diet there's nothing wrong with chocolate. We have never encouraged over-consumption."

Sports minister Richard Caborn said he was "delighted" by Cadbury's involvement.

'Positive attitude'

He added: "We are all aware of the growing health problems facing our young people and we are eager to encourage more to get involved in sport and develop active lifestyles.

"In partnership we could make a real difference to the quality of young people's lives."

Whatever doubts may be raised, the Get Active programme looks set to reach a lot of pupils.

Its high point will be a free event for more than 20,000 visitors at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham.

Children will be able to take part in activities like cricket, dance, football, music, netball or tennis.

Marathon runner Paula Radcliffe, boxer Audley Harrison and cricketer Darren Gough will be on-hand to offer advice.

YST chief executive Sue Campbell said: "Before entering into this partnership we consulted teachers from both primary and secondary schools and their attitude to the Cadbury Get Active campaign was both positive and upbeat."

Only time will tell whether it makes the UK's school children fitter.

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