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MPs call for sport camps and daily mile initiatives to combat growing childhood obesity epidemic

MPs have discussed the most effective ways to use cash raised from the soft drinks tax, including the rolling out of sports camps and daily mile initiatives.

The 90-minute debate, which took place on Tuesday afternoon at Westminster in London, was tabled by Justin Tomlinson, MP for North Swindon. He opened the discussion by saying that a third of children are overweight or obese, which was "an alarming figure, which creates social norms and becomes acceptable".

Tomlinson highlighted the positive work of Draycott Sports Camp in his constituency, which runs after-school, weekend and school holiday clubs. He said: "Two-hundred primary schoolchildren were being active every day in the last summer holidays.

"The club is for the vast majority of children who are not sport minded. There should be hundreds and hundreds of these camps."

In March last year, the government announced it would be introducing a tax on sugary drinks, which is expected to come into force in April 2018 and predicted to raise £520m in its first year.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb, who also attended the debate, confirmed that the £520m from the levy will be ring-fenced until 2020. However, Will Quince, MP for Colchester questioned whether £520m would be raised and said the figure would more likely be between £200-300m.

During the debate, Maggie Throup, MP for Erewash, warned that one in five children begin primary school either being overweight or obese and that youngsters are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. She said: "We need to tackle obesity at a young age. Changing habits in children now will change their habits for life."

David Rutley, MP for Macclesfield, and Caroline Monaghan, MP for Glasgow North West, highlighted the importance of daily mile initiatives.

Monaghan told MPs: "The daily mile was developed in Stirling. It takes 15 minutes each day. My own children do the daily mile up and down tarmac. They say it makes then feel energised and refreshed."

She continued: "The Scottish Government has made a commitment that Scotland will be the first daily mile nation and it will be rolled out in schools, nurseries, colleges and workplaces. Eight-hundred schools are doing the daily mile."

St Ninians Primary in Stirling, Scotland, launched its daily mile scheme in 2015. Monaghan said that there are now no overweight children in Primary 1 at the school, adding: "We need to raise children as fit and active citizens."

Rutley called on the UK Government to prioritise efforts to encourage schools to adopt daily mile initiatives. He argued that active mile concepts, which were referenced in the Government’s Childhood Obesity Plan, are “simple, basic initiatives, that encourage and inspire children, taking just 15 minutes out of the day to run, walk, or jog”.

 He said: “They are fun, non-competitive and inclusive. Something everyone can engage with, and they help to encourage more children to get their 60 minutes of activity at school.”

 Rutley also spoke about the positive effects that such schemes and other physical activities can have on children’s academic performance, which he said left kids “more awake, more alert, and more focused on their lessons”.

 The MP also advocated the role that organisations such as ukactive can play in helping roll out active mile schemes.

 A ukactive report, Blueprint for an Active Britain: Milestone Review, has called for the national roll out of active mile concepts, offering a simple way for schools to incorporate an inclusive physical activity into schools.

After the debate, ukactive executive director Steven Ward said: “Active mile schemes have shown themselves to be a great way of getting children moving more in school and should be rolled out nationwide, but ukactive research shows that children are least active when they’re at home, so money from the Sugar Levy should also be used beyond the school gates to offer activity sessions that are accessible for all over holiday periods.

“Schools minister Nick Gibb’s confirmation that the £520m of extra funding from the Soft Drink Industry Levy will be ring-fenced until 2020 should be viewed as a deadline for the physical activity sector in order to evidence our impact."

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MPs have discussed the most effective ways to use cash raised from the soft drinks tax, including the rolling out of sports camps and daily mile initiatives.
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