A Coventry University researcher has issued a warning that the UK is facing a tsunami of health issues if it does not address a worrying level of physical activity skills of children and teenagers.
Professor Mike Duncan from Coventry University’s research Centre for Sports, Exercise and Life Sciences has worked with the International Motor Development Research Consortium and 11 other academics to alert the public to the concerningly low level of motor competence of children and adolescents in the UK and Ireland.
The academics warn that if schools, community sports, and healthcare systems do not focus on enhancing fundamental movement skills – such as balancing, twisting, running, jumping grasping, handling, throwing, and catching in children and adolescents – soon, it could lead to increases in health issues like obesity, diabetes, and mental well-being.
They have shared their concerns in an expert statement that data from a study in 2019 highlighted that less than 20% of children in the UK aged 6 to 9 years had mastered the four key motor skills (run, jump, throw, catch) identified by the PE National Curriculum.
The data Professor Duncan and the academics reviewed was all collected pre-pandemic and due to Covid and homeschooling during lockdowns, he expects the situation to have worsened.
He said: ‘The potential long-term impacts of low fundamental movement skills include higher rates of inactivity and poorer health and well-being. Although there is evidence to suggest motor competence interventions by schools can be effective, there is a need to invest in the development of motor competence beyond schools and physical education (PE).
‘A systems and community-based approach to intervention is needed with links between schools, community-based programmes and parents. This should be coupled with continued development of quality research and additional clarity in describing motor competency interventions in this area.
‘We believe skill levels are so low that children do not currently have sufficient foundation to successfully participate in different forms of physical activity and without this we are likely to see increasing ill health related to obesity, diabetes, and mental well-being. There is an urgent need to ensure that children are taught the movement skills that will enable them to be active for life.’
The academics recommend decision makers in local and national government and research funding bodies in the UK and Ireland act now.
President of the International Motor Development Research Consortium, Professor Lisa Barnett said: ‘There is overwhelming research evidence that being motor skilled contributes to children’s health in multiple ways, both physically and mentally. Yet children are more sedentary than ever before, and COVID-19 has only made this situation much worse.
‘Without action, the potential long-term impacts of low motor skills are higher rates of inactivity and poorer health and well-being, likely creating a significant future social, health and economic burden for the UK and Ireland.’