Pupils told to double sports activity to fight obesity

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School children will have to play up to five hours of sport a week under a £500m programme to tackle childhood obesity to be announced by Tony Blair today.

School children will have to play up to five hours of sport a week under a £500m programme to tackle childhood obesity to be announced by Tony Blair today.

Ministers will more than double the minimum time children should spend on PE each week by 2010 as part of a drive to end the long-term decline in school sports.

The programme will aim to expand after-school sports lessons and specialist coaching from martial arts and dance to girls' football. Central to the scheme are 400 schools across the UK being adapted into sports colleges which will be at the heart of a local sports network typically involving sports clubs, a dozen secondary schools and 40 primaries.

The new initiative, to be started today by Mr Blair and Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, reflects concern about children's increasingly inactive lives and the resulting levels of childhood obesity, which have been linked, among other illnesses, to diabetes.

Ministers aim to get three-quarters of children doing at least two hours of sport during school hours by 2006.

But under the new scheme, children would be expected to play sport for another two to three hours a week in out-of-hours clubs.

Opposition MPs yesterday said the Government was failing to meet current targets for all children to have just two hours' sport a week.

They accused ministers of failing to spend the funds already allocated to increasing school sport.

The new initiative will expand the 315 existing School Sport Partnerships which bring together groups of schools to pool coaching expertise and share sports facilities. The scheme is aimed at remedying the problem of school-leavers giving up sport for years. It is also hoped that the initiative will help to create a greater pool of talent for potential Olympians should London win its bid to stage the Games in 2012.

The Tories warned that only £41m of the £750m allocated to improve school sport in 2000 had been spent.

Lord Moynihan, the shadow Sports minister said: "Since 1997, participation in sport has gone down and we have the highest rates of childhood obesity in Europe."

Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat Education spokesman, said: "The real challenge is to increase participation, which is too often a problem among girls, especially those from ethnic minorities."

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