Terence Blacker: Generation Sloth - victims of a betrayal

Those not encouraged to take exercise at school will slip into idle adulthood

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The Independent Online

Here is a small test for those politicians and civil servants who like to talk about "joined-up government". These two news stories have been released over the past few days. Can you see the connection between them?

1. The United Kingdom, according to the latest edition of The Lancet, is one of the most slothful countries in the world. A set of papers researching lack of exercise has revealed that, in Europe, the British are second only to the Maltese and the Serbs for physical laziness. A hefty 63.3 per cent of the population fail to take the recommended amount of exercise, compared with 41 per cent of Americans. Lack of exercise, the doctors argue, is a significantly larger threat to health than smoking.

2. There has been a 60 per cent decrease in the time devoted to sport in school since 2009/10 as a direct result of funding cuts. A survey of 150 local councils showed that there are 110 fewer School Sport Partnerships, a reduction of over a third before the cuts. All over the country, particularly in the North-east, the West Midlands and Greater London, significantly fewer schoolchildren are playing organised sport than a year ago.

You'd need to be wearing particularly heavy blinkers, or perhaps to work in government, not to see what's going on here. And not only are we more supine and fat-bottomed than comparable nations but, as the current generation of exercise-deprived children reaches adulthood, the situation will soon become worse.

Funding for School Sports Partnerships, cut by 69 per cent in 2010, is only guaranteed until 2013. With breathtaking gall, the Government has boasted that the emphasis is now on providing facilities for those in their late teens who have just left school – a neat manoeuvre which allows it to use Lottery cash while shifting the responsibility elsewhere. The policy is already failing. Those who were not encouraged to take exercise at school tend, unsurprisingly, to slip into idle adulthood.

It is a huge betrayal of our children. Exercise saves lives: according to the Lancet research, inactivity increases by up to a third the risk of heart disease, diabetes or some forms of cancer. Apart from the obvious health benefits, it helps people to live fuller, more energetic lives, physically and mentally.

Taking exercise is a habit of mind and body which should be part of any civilised education. For a government, run by the privileged and the privately educated, to deprive the vast majority of children of the chance to play organised sport at school is a matter of national shame.