Primary schools should take all pupils for a mile-long walk every day to tackle Britain’s obesity epidemic, according to a leading health expert.
Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, warned that the nation is in the grip of crisis which requires urgent action.
But she said the very simple and cheap measure of insisting every child in the country walks or runs for 15 minutes a day will go some way to tackling the problem.
The RSPH, which represents more than 6,000 public health professionals, today will join the call for a tax on sugar and will demand greater investment in social care and public health.
In a new childhood obesity report, to be launched at its annual conference, the organisation will demand ‘concerted efforts, as a matter of urgency, to reverse the trend of childhood obesity’.
But Mrs Cramer, speaking to the Daily Mail before today’s conference, said simple, cheap actions could be just as effective.
‘If you said that every child had to be out and walk or run a mile every day, it would cost nothing,’ she said.
‘This is an inexpensive, sensible, common sense way to promote activity and being healthy. We would like all schools to do this.
‘It also makes children more chirpy, more inclined to learn, and more confident. It is a win-win solution.’
She praised St Ninians School in Stirling, which started taking its children out for a daily walk or run three years ago.
‘They have no obese children in their school,’ Mrs Cramer said. ‘They don’t need to be in a team or show their ball skills, they just need to go for a walk or a run.’
The NHS advises that all children undertake 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
But according to the Department of Health, only 28 per cent of children in England achieve this.
Mrs Cramer said: ‘We do have to do something about obesity, there is no question about that.
‘The fact that we have a fifth of children starting primary school overweight or obese, is a real problem.
They will then be overweight adults and there are significant health risks around this- cardiovascular, diabetes, asthma, skin problems.’
She called for parents to also take responsibility, by walking their children to school rather than driving them.
But she said the Government was in the best position to make a real difference to the problem.
‘We need a much more robust attitude rather than a “little bit here” or “a little bit there”.
‘We have to do something drastic because the burden on the NHS is £4.2billion a year and rising.
‘Obesity is preventable – there is very little hereditary obesity – it is about environment, exercise and what you eat.’
She also joined a growing call for a tax on sugary foods, despite the Government’s repeated insistence that it will not consider the measure.
Public Health England has come to the conclusion that a sugar tax would reduce the demand for unhealthy food, but, as the Daily Mail reported yesterday, its report on the issue was shelved in June and there is no date for publication.
Mrs Cramer said: ‘We need a sugar tax – I don’t think this Government will go there but we need to look at it.
‘I think it is something we should all be pushing. People recognise that this is something that needs to be done.’