Time to tackle childhood obesity
As a child growing up in the 70s I cycled everywhere; to and from school every morning (three miles each way), around my mates on an evening and even scrumping for apples at the weekend; wherever my friends and I went, we went there on two wheels.
The reason was simple; very few people had a car and my Enfield, five gear racing bike, was my only passport to freedom, freedom to roam, to discover and explore.
That second hand, rusty blue flying machine, helped deliver papers at the crack of dawn, it carried countless bottoms on the cross bar and ferried countless bags of shopping on both handle bars.
I would have been lost without it and probably three stone overweight.
Because unbeknown to me, this machine was not just helping me live life to the full, it was also keeping me fit and healthy.
The bike racks at school were full to brimming each morning at 08.15, as we raced to school for a pre-lesson kick about; every child had a bike back then and they were ridden until they literally fell to bits.
Obesity was not the norm; in fact, I can only remember one seriously overweight child in our school and his weight gain was down to a medical problem.
Contrast that with today’s picture in Peterborough, a city where a third of the children are overweight or obese, an astonishing statistic that does not bode well for the future.
But it’s not surprising, because according to the British Heart Foundation, one in four of us in the east haven’t ridden a bike for more than 10 years!
The children of today are being killed by kindness, force fed a nice sugary breakfast, before being driven to school each morning, in the back of dad’s Mondeo, whilst their BMX’s sit rusting in the garage.
Once at school, they are banned from playing football in the playground in case they strain an eyelash, PE has been forsaken for double Maths, thanks to the pressure of government targets and the school field, where they used to play tag, has three bedroom semis on it.
When the bell rings, mum chauffeurs her wobbly little soldiers to McDonald’s for tea and shoves a tablet in their hands, to keep them quiet for the night.
Then it’s off to the supermarket to buy anything in a box that can be shoved in a microwave, fruit and vegetables are avoided like the plague, because nobody taught mum how to cook.
So, who is to blame for this childhood obesity epidemic - The Government, schools or parents? Well the answer is all three.
Parents must turn off their little one’s gadgets, stop poisoning them with sugar, throw them outside and tell them to play. Then get their bikes out of the garage, scrape off the rust and get their little legs turning - Sure the roads are busier now than they were, but we have a myriad of cycle ways in this city, make the children use them.
Schools should throw open their playgrounds and encourage children to run around and have fun.
PE needs to be prioritised and extra sessions laid on at lunch time and after school - Dinner time needs to be a chip and crisp free zone.
The government and council have to ensure that playing fields are retained and that the pressure from targets does not impinge on the school’s ability to help keep our children healthy.
As a matter of urgency, the teaching of domestic science and cookery must be re-introduced to the curriculum – learning how to cook might be more important than trigonometry to the parents of the future.
In short what has happened to the children of this city is nothing short of child abuse and governments, schools and parents must all shoulder the blame and take action now.
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire’s Paul Stainton writes for the Peterborough Telegraph