Active Kids – The Facts:

A physically active child is a healthy child. We know that. As well as the obvious physical benefits such as strengthening muscles and bones, it also helps to prevent weight gain and reduces the risk of diabetes among other diseases. This is is without even mentioning the incredible mental health benefits – experts have long since recognised that building confidence and self-esteem, managing anxiety, depression and increasing cognitive skills are just a few of the amazing benefits to regular active exercise. It has also been found that children who are physically active, also adopt other healthy habits such as avoiding alcohol, tobacco and drug use.

So with all those incredible benefits to regular exercise, why is it that in 2017 Sport England found (in an online survey of 130,000 young people aged 5-16) only one in six children achieved their recommended 60 minutes active exercise a day? And why is it that one in three children aged 2 – 16 are classified as overweight in the UK? Is anybody else spotting the link? 

Early LifeLab

So where does all this information fit into a photographic exhibition as the title implies? Well I was approached by a department within the University of Southampton called LifeLab.

LifeLab is a novel educational intervention designed to empower both primary and secondary school pupils through science enquiry to understand the consequences of lifestyle choiuces on their own health. As its name suggests, this state-of-the-art teaching laboratory, located in the heart of University Hospital Southampton, has a focus on life and lifestyle.

As grown ups, we know that eating the right food and exercising regularly is the way forward for a healthy mind and body, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if the children and young people of today could reach the same conclusions by themselves. To arm and empower them with the facts so they can choose for themselves?

We all know that smoking is harmful, but we also know that telling a teenager not to do something is as effective as using a chocolate teapot. So what Life Lab do is demonstrate and prove the science behind smoking so that the teenagers can see it for themselves and then base their life choices upon the science. Effective and mind blowing!

Building on the success of the work with secondary schools, Early LifeLab is a novel educational intervention for primary schools. It aims to support children in making healthy choices about the foods they eat, their levels of physical activity and their sleep patterns. Early LifeLab provides a series of fully resourced, short, cross-curricular work packages for delivery at different stages of the primary years. It makes the science behind the need for healthy diet, physical activity and sleep accessible to young children, helping them to discover why this matters for themselves.

The scary truth is that childhood obesity is such a massive public health problem now that by the time children leave primary school, on average, 1 in 3 will be overweight or obese. 1 in 3! And that figure is an average. It is well documented that children in the most deprived areas of the country are currently 40% likely to be obese compared with 27% in the more affluent areas. 

Early LifeLab have set out to listen to the voices of parents and children when it comes to their experience of physical activity. This project will allow children and parents to shape the future direction of the Early LifeLab programme by being part of the exhibition and by taking part in research questionnaires.

Active Kids: The Brief:

And this is where all the pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place. With all these key statistics and worrying facts in mind, this project aims to celebrate activity in children; showcasing the many varied ways in which children can be active for 60 minutes every day. We plan to engage with communities by displaying a photographic exhibition in a variety of locations both locally and nationally, to ensure a varied audience is interact with it. We want to hear about the barriers to physical activity faced by families.

The proposal for the exhibition was to build a collection of vibrant and inspiring images of young people engaged in activity and active play, regardless of their backgrounds. This would encourage and provoke discussions and reactions on parental experiences of physical activity in children and any barriers they may face.

We want to engage people and make them think. What does physical activity mean for me and my child? What does 60 minutes of physical activity a day look like for my child and what are the barriers to achieving it? What kinds of physical activity do we do already? What kinds of physical activity could we try? How can I ensure my child enjoys physical activity? What kinds of physical activity could we do together?

Active Kids: The Photos:

Early LifeLab works predominantly with schools in the Southampton/Hampshire area, but recognised that it was important that the photographs were relevent to more people than just those living in the local area. 

So we headed to an Early LifeLab partner primary school in inner-city Birmingham called Nelson Mandela Primary School who have a very strong philosophy of getting children as active as possible and to use exercise as an every day teaching tool. The head teacher has a strong ideology that activity and exercise are key threads in enabling children to achieve and so exercise is an integrated into all parts of the school. While we were there we photographed children enjoying active play as part of their everyday curriculum which was just fabulous. No amount of rain would stop those children enjoying being outside. We were also able to talk to some parents about their experiences and what they deemed to be any barriers, which was really useful!

The remaining photos have been taken from my photo shoots. As an outdoor family photographer, I am passionate about getting outside as much as possible and making my photo shoots as active and fun for all members of the family, whether it’s throwing leaves around, going for a walk with the dogs or rolling down hills! I have also had the privilege of working alongside several Forest Schools to capture a local Pre-School enjoying and embracing the world of outdoor learning.

Active Kids: The Exhibition:

The Active Kids exhibition is being unveiled on Saturday 16th March for Science and Engineering day at the University of Southampton. It will then move on to Winchester Science Centre where it will be on display with an opportunity to give your views on physical activity in children.

We would love to hear what you think about this topic as obviously it is absolutely huge at the moment. With the projected figures of 1 in 3 children being overweight or obese by the time they start secondary school, we have a duty of care as parents to do something about this. It is not the responsibility of schools to provide it, it is the responsibility of us as parents to ensure that we are doing right by our kids and they are given every opportunity to have a healthy and active lifestyle. We would love to know your thoughts and experiences on this topic, as sadly it looks like it will be affecting more and more of us as our children grow up!

If you would like to get in touch with somebody from Life Lab to share your views or discuss your experiences, then the team would love to hear from you and hear what you have to say.

Further information:

If you would like to find out more information about the things discussed in this blog post, I looked at articles by Sport England, WHO and the BBC.