Feature: Eureka!: Kids are growing up weaker

Eureka! Executives Liz Smallman and Leigh-Anne Stradeski.
Eureka! Executives Liz Smallman and Leigh-Anne Stradeski.

Youngsters are growing up in captivity and don’t even know how to fall anymore, according to The National Children’s Museum.

Executives at Halifax’s Eureka! museum, which annually welcomes more than a quarter of a million children to take part in interactive and educational play, warn that new kids on the block are suffering physically because of a world of technology.

obese child / overweight / fat boy / watching television / couch potato  / eating junk food / crisps

obese child / overweight / fat boy / watching television / couch potato / eating junk food / crisps

Eureka! visitor experience director, Liz Smallman, pictured, warned today’s children are “physically weaker and spend more times less connected with the outdoors than their 1990 counterparts”.

She agrees with the statement made by the former government adviser and child psychologist, Tanya Byron, who claimed “most children spend most of their childhoods being raised in captivity” because we are living in a “risk-adverse culture” filled with “over-anxious parents”.

Dr Byron claimed more children are being admitted to our A & E departments with minor injuries as they tense when they fall - because they “don’t know how to fall anymore”.

More than 2,000 children under 12 were admitted to Calderdale Royal Accident and Emergency department with fractures and sprains, in 2013/14.

Eureka, Halifax

Eureka, Halifax

“A combination of factors have led to children being the least adventurous generation in terms of getting up from the sofa and turning away from the distractions of technology,” said Mrs Smallman.

The comments Liz first made, in a Courier comment article, were based on a study published by fitness expert Dr Sandercock from Essex University, which looks at the physical strength of 2011’s 10-year-olds compared with their 1990 counterparts. The study, published in the respected Acta Paediatrica, which compared six hundred children, found today’s children are less able to hang from wall bars and are generally less muscular.

In a national Mothercare study of more than 1,000 parents, six out of ten said there is more to occupy their children indoors than outdoors. While half of parents, concerned about “stranger danger”, think outside play is more dangerous these days and 60 per cent of over-cautious parents worry their children will get hurt when out and about.

One in five Calderdale school starters were classed as clinically “overweight” or “obese” in 2009/10. Year six figures were slightly higher with 23 per cent of students classed as overweight or obese.

One in three year six children are overweight or obese according to figures for the most recent recorded academic year, 2012/13.

Calderdale Royal paediatrician, Dr. Alistair Morris, said: “It is always important that children eat a healthy diet and take part in regular physically active play as part of a healthy lifestyle.”

Eureka! chief executive, Leigh-Anne Stradeski, pictured, who shared her observations with the Daily Telegraph, said: “‘Learning by stealth’ is a phrase often described by play experts and the children’s museum movement to convey how, far from being indulgent, play delivers tangible outcomes that have a critical role in wider child development - such as being creative, developing communication skills and learning to share or even to concentrate on detail.”

“The chief executive officer promotes the health benefits of the children’s museum’s new All About Me gallery, which features a climbing wall, balance bars and other interactive exhibits which encourage children to explore ways of being active.

“However, from our own research we are well aware play is slipping down the family agenda. A survey of our family visitors found that eight out of ten respondents admitted making an excuse to avoid playing with children.

“Around half said household chores, work or study pressures got in the way of play.”

The National Children’s Museum said encouraging children to be active in playing outdoors and indoors is a big part of its agenda and, it claims, the reason executives follow and comment on the latest research findings into the health and wellbeing of children.

Calderdale Council’s director of public health, Paul Butcher, said: “Being physically active every day is important for healthy growth and development.

“Children who can walk on their own should be active every day for at least three hours.

“To maintain a basic level of health, children and young people aged five to 18 need to do at least an hour a day, he said.

“Calderdale Council actively encourages physical activity for children both indoors and out, and works with schools to deliver Change 4 Life sessions, focussing on physical activity and healthy diet.

“We also recognise the importance of parents playing with their children whenever and wherever they can,” said Mr Butcher.

The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) records the weight and height of reception class children aged four to five and year six pupils aged 10-11 to assess overweight and obese children in primary schools.

In 2009/10 the percentage of Calderdale reception class children classed as “overweight” was 12.6 per cent of all school starters and eight per cent of those children were “obese” on their first day of school. The total for both categories totalled 2,480 four to five-year-olds.

In the same academic year, one in three Calderdale children aged 10-11 were either overweight or obese.

In 2010/11, more than 4,000 children in reception and year six were deemed clinically overweight or obese with one in five children in these categories by the time they start school and one in three year six pupils were overweight or obese as they left primary education.

Figures for overweight and obese reception and year six school pupils dropped slightly in 2011/12 from a total of 4,651 reception and year six children overweight or obese children in the previously recorded year to 4,467. In 2012/13 data shows 4,417 reception and year six aged children were overweight or obese and one in three children, aged 10-11 were still beginning their next academic chapter as “overweight” or “obese”.

The NCMP was set up in line with Government policy to tackle obesity in the UK and to inform local planning and delivery of services for children; analyse trends in growth patters and obesity; and to increase public knowledge and professional understanding of weight issues in children.