Education: Letter - The fat's really in the fire

Our article last week on obesity among children, and the associated lack of physical exercise, provoked a wide response, as did the pieces on the future of lecturers, and the issue of benchmarking subjects
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I READ with interest the article by Emma Haughton ("Survival of the fattest", Education, 14 January) on the health of our schoolchildren. Although I agree that childhood obesity is a major public health issue, that schools may have an important role to play, and physical activity is key, I was surprised by some parts of the article. First, the Health Education Authority's "Young & Active?" project was not mentioned. As co-director of the academic part of this project, and senior editor of the book containing the evidence, I am confident that this provides us with the best picture of young people and physical activity, based on the available international evidence.

Second, from this extensive review, it was concluded that many children meet the adult criterion of 30 minutes of moderate intensity on most days of the week, but need to do more to prevent the decline in health being witnessed.

Third, the "victim-blaming" language used in the article is unhelpful. Young people are not "too lazy and gluttonous"; they are, like adults, affected by a social and physical environment that is unhelpful in encouraging greater physical activity. Indeed, the article states that we eat no more than we did some years ago.

My fourth point is to disagree with Professor Armstrong's conclusion that the mother is the key role model in the family. Evidence on modelling of physical activity in families is largely equivocal, and certainly there is no clear evidence in favour of either the mother or father; peer modelling influence is far greater.

Finally, the article gave the suggestion that active children make active adults. The data available does not show this at all clearly. This "tracking" of activity happens, a little, from childhood to youth, but the link is very weak indeed from youth to adulthood.


Professor of Exercise & Sport Psychology

Loughborough University