Let them eat cake

Joyfully, we are at a time of year when many of us can take a pause. Christmas is wonderful because it’s a time to relax and enjoy.

However, its calorific celebration has also got me thinking about recent headlines on child obesity. New research has found that more than a third of young people are overweight, with there being a particularly stark increase in weight between ages 7-11. The figures come from the Millennium Cohort Study, a UCL-run study of 12,000 children born between 2000 and 2001, and suggest that young people don’t just indulge in December.

Undeniably, these figures are troubling, but my worry is that the headlines, accompanying images of glum overweight children sat by a pool and social media outrage do little to help. The whole conversation has become toxic and shaming, even for those parents who have genuinely done their best to bring up healthy children. I am concerned that none of this is doing anything to motivate, encourage or inspire young people to be active.

While speaking with someone who dedicates themselves to getting young people active, I was struck by his frustration about this debate. To paraphrase him, the issue is not necessarily that young people eat cake (or, perhaps, Christmas ‘pud’). The problem is that they do not run around to burn it off.

So, the question becomes what can we do?

A recent meeting with the English Federation of Disability Sport opened my eyes. We were discussing the accessibility of Active Leaders and whether we could claim it is fully inclusive, even for those with disabilities. They confirmed it is and we can, and their explanation was enlightening.

They supported Active Leaders because it is all about what an individual can do. It is not a judgement against criteria or set benchmarks and it does not give pass or fails. They explained that this “can do” approach helps disabled people make the most of their lives and possibly even pushes their boundaries further.

It is this same “can do”, positive approach we adopt with Active Leaders and why I believe it can help young people to be more active, by helping others to be. Active Leaders is a programme which offers a welcoming hand, an opportunity to engage and participate, a chance to discover skills and abilities you didn’t know you had, to enjoy being active without having to compete. We look at what each young person can do, giving them self-assurance and encouragement. I believe it can be part of a long-term solution to tackle obesity, turning the debate into practical action.

Active Leaders will always strive to create an atmosphere where confidence, excitement and happiness can thrive – where young people can have their cake, eat it and burn it off!

Have a great Christmas.