It’s no surprise that the amount of exercise children do throughout the world differs significantly. With so many factors playing a part from geographical location, socia-economic reasons and government guidelines. The divide sees children in the developing world who are severely underweight and where sport is not viewed as an important factor in everyday life, to wealthier western countries where children as young as 5 are being classed as clinically obese, thus leading to high levels of adults and young people with heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Exercise is valued in some countries but not in others and it appears this gap continues to widen.
One county which holds exercise in high regard is Finland. Finnish children have one of the highest levels of fitness in the world and this can be attributed to how their government and social climate view children. The government contribute a large amount of money into children’s services, particularly focusing on physical activity. Finnish children are recommended by the government to get around 3 hours of exercise a day with many schools aiming to get children moving once every hour in between classes. This recommendation is high compared to that of the UK government, which currently sits at only 1 hour per day.
The Aspen Institute in the United States conducted research into sports and found that in America, less and less children are playing sport or joining sports teams than in previous years. It was found that pressure from sports coaches and parents for children to play to win put children off. For example, the consequences of missing a goal would mean two laps round the field. Children found very little encouragement or sense of achievement in this. It was also found that in America, sport is seen as an elitist hobby, with many clubs setting high fees, safe in the knowledge those who can afford it, will pay it. Many colleges place a huge emphasis on children being in a sports team from an early age and excelling. However, the study found this mentality can be damaging and in fact deter children from continuing sports and physical activity as they no longer find it rewarding. Particularly in America, sport and fitness seems to be monopolised by money, as well as pressure from parents and coaches for children to succeed, with no room for error or failure.
Sports camps such as Kings Camps aim to get children active, have fun and learn together. The organisation is realistic in knowing not every child will grow up to be the next Jennifer Ellis or Andy Murray so rather than focus on competitiveness, their supportive coaches focus on encouragement and rewarding children for their efforts. They understand that sport isn’t for every child, so they offer a variety of fun active games for children of all ages, encouraging the inclusion of all children, no matter how ‘non-sporty’ they may be. Another branch of The Kings Foundation organisation is Kings Volunteer (KV). KV has made a huge impact on a high number of children within the developing world through their Base Packs and sends these to communities who have very little access to sports and equipment and provides training to a sports leader within the community. The leader will then continue to use the Base Pack to provide sports and active games for children in the community. KV research areas of the world where children are deprived of the chance to play sport and give them the opportunity to learn and have fun through active play. Further information can be found here http://www.kingsvolunteer.org/
It’s universally known that exercise is the key to having a healthy body and mind and countries such as Finland are lucky to have a society which fully supports this statement as they invest a lot of money and resources in providing this for their children. However, many children are faced with obstacles preventing them from playing sports and learning through active play. For example, this could be due to costs involved or the pressure of playing sport competitively in western countries, on the other end of the spectrum, you have children in developing countries who simply will not have the opportunities to take part in sport with their peers. This may be due to caring for siblings, child marriage or not having a safe space in which to play with their peers. For example, children who have been displaced and find themselves living in refugee camps. There are a huge number of reasons as to why children across the globe do or do not gain enough exercise and is something which organisations such as KV aim to tackle in developing countries. For western countries, one would assume a change is needed from those in a position of power, the government, for countries to experience a nationwide change in the amount of exercise children do.