In Bristol there are 27,000 youngsters overweight
IT seems that the news is full of negative stories about children and young people these days. Our children weigh more than they used to, they are less active than they should be, and we've now heard that they aren't as good at maths as children in Taiwan. Life can be tough growing up! Some of the most important and worrying reports to come out show that the wellbeing – a measure of the happiness or quality of life – of children in the UK is lagging behind other European countries. Perhaps this shouldn't surprise us but it certainly rings warning bells. We need to look out for our children. Because who would be happy living in a country where our children and young people feel sad and miserable?
Improving the lives of children starts with action by government departments to tackle poverty and improve early years. However public health teams also do their bit by promoting healthy weight and exercise for children. In Bristol, there are 27,000 children and young people who are overweight or obese and around 8,000 who may have poor emotional health. Yet helping children to maintain a healthy weight and to be active also reduces their risk of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers later in life.
Looking after a child's wellbeing helps to improve their physical health and can even impact on how well they do at school. It can also help to protect them from behavioural problems and a life of violence, crime and drug or alcohol misuse later on.
So how can we maximise health and wellbeing? Surveys tell us that children value good, stable relationships with family and friends, creative and sporting activities and having plenty of things to do, particularly outdoors.
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Studies also show that the school environment plays an important role in maximising wellbeing and helping children to cope with life's stresses and problems. Bristol has responded to this challenge by adopting the "Healthy Schools Plus" programme, which is run in primary and secondary schools throughout the city. Schools in the programme run activities that aim to improve the whole school environment, to improve children's knowledge and skills, to involve the community and to provide health services if needed. Some brilliant activities have been introduced by local schools in Bristol, including breakfast clubs with an activity and creative zone, cooking clubs, fruit tuckshops, and growing fruit and veg in the school garden to improve healthy eating.
Several schools have also introduced new sports and drama clubs to promote exercise and creativity. We have some evidence that this programme works. A study in the South West showed that nearly all schools on the "Healthy Schools" programme reported an improvement in health related behaviours and knowledge amongst pupils. Behaviour of pupils also improved.
Support is now available for all Bristol schools to participate in the healthy schools programme.
More information on the opportunities available and how to get involved can be found on www.bristolhealthyschools.org.uk.