Children and Exercise
July 27, 2020
Teenage boy boxing on a punchbag



Having talked about exercise in older people in my last blog – this week I’m back to talking about children and exercise. In particular though, I want to focus on children and adolescents who are overweight and obese. This is a conscious decision triggered by recent conversations with my wife, a school nurse, who has noticed rising levels obesity with many of the more vulnerable children she works with; an observation that has been formally reported by others too (see ref 1 below).

It’s a topic I feel strongly about as I have been working closely with OneLife Suffolk on the development and evaluation of their new children and young people service.

My first blog centred on some of the positive changes we have seen in the amount of physical activity children have been doing during the pandemic. And whilst it’s true that many children have become more active during the day, we also hear of rising levels of ‘screen time’ as parents struggle to balance the pressure of home working and homeschooling. The challenge of keeping children moving in lockdown is evident with figures from Onelife suggesting that some children are spending up to 50 hours a week on sedentary activities.

As with so many health inequalities that exist in the world, the pandemic is being felt with greater impact by those with insufficient social support, significant financial difficulties, disability or problems with mental health. Importantly, children and adolescents with obesity are disproportionately represented in these groups.

We are also seeing evidence emerge that diet, screen time and exercise levels are all moving in the wrong direction for children and adolescents with existing obesity. This is not so surprising to hear. The closure of schools has meant the loss of the structure that school provides, including scheduled PE lessons and unstructured play during breaks. Access to school meals has been lost too, which for some children will have been vital to ensure a balanced diet.

It is a worrying statistic that, on average, children gain more weight during the summer holidays than they would during term time. This unprecedented year will in effect see the summer holiday period extended two to three-fold. Children and teens struggling with obesity are therefore placed in an unfortunate position of isolation combined with a loss of structure that creates an unfavourable environment for maintaining healthy lifestyle choices and behaviours.

It is a silver lining to know that in Suffolk, well before the pandemic struck, we were investing in support for children with unhealthy weight, taking a whole-person, whole-family approach. OneLife’s Specialist Family Service team includes a dietitian, family therapist, sports and exercise professionals and weight management practitioners. Together they provide comprehensive support for children and families. Their weight management service is suitable for overweight children between the ages 5-18years including children with medical, social, educational or emotional difficulties.

To join the advanced program, which combines physical activity advice, psychological, education and family support, a referral needs to be made by your child’s GP or school nurse. If your child has an unhealthy weight but doesn’t meet the criteria for the advanced program, you can self-refer onto OneLife’s child and family support program. Either way, if you’re unsure and want to find out more about what’s available then take a look OneLife’s website or speak to your GP or school nurse who’ll make sure your child is able to access the most appropriate program for their needs.

Spaces are STILL available on all these programs and have been adapted to offer both virtual and face to face appointments in response to the pandemic.


Dr Craig Sheridan
GP & Specialty Registrar in Sports and Exercise Medicine
MBChB BSc (Hons) MRCGP (2013) MSc dip SEM (Distinction) MFSEM (UK)

Ref 1. Angelo Pietrobelli, Luca Pecoraro, Alessandro Ferruzzi, Moonseong Heo, Myles Faith, Thomas Zoller, Franco Antoniazzi, Giorgio Piacentini, S. Nicole Fearnbach, Steven B. Heymsfield. Effects of COVID‐19 Lockdown on Lifestyle Behaviors in Children with Obesity Living in Verona, Italy: A Longitudinal Study. Obesity, 2020; DOI: 10.1002/oby.22861

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