COVID-19: MPs call for ‘five a day’-style campaign to get kids exercising an hour a day after lockdowns

A new campaign similar to the “five a day” healthy eating message should encourage kids to do at least an hour’s exercise a day amid fears about the impact of COVID lockdowns on children’s activity levels, MPs have said.

In a new report by the House of Commons’ digital, culture, media and sport committee, the government is also urged to set up a “Work Out to Help Out” scheme – similar to last summer’s “Eat Out to Help Out” campaign – to get people participating in organised sport.

The group of MPs also want more action to protect grassroots sporting clubs, which have nurtured many of Great Britain’s athletes currently competing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Members of Britain's contingent during opening ceremony
Grassroots clubs have nurtured many of Great Britain’s athletes currently competing in Tokyo

Conservative MP Julian Knight, the committee’s chair, said the last year-and-a-half of the coronavirus crisis had “left the already perilous finances of grassroots sport in tatters”.

“Community sports clubs nurture Olympic medallists and bring joy to people young and old, we cannot let them go to the wall,” he said.

Mr Knight branded a delay to the government’s £150m fund for under-threat community groups as “disappointing and unhelpful”.

And he urged ministers to take up his committee’s ten recommendations to “better protect the spaces we exercise in and put grassroots sport on a more sustainable financial footing”.

“The government must also play its part in getting people active again following the pandemic or risk consequences for public health in the future,” Mr Knight added.

Among the committee’s recommendations are:

• a sporting equivalent of the “Eat Out to Help Out” campaign, entitled “Work Out to Help Out”, to incentivise volunteers and participants to get involved, participate in organised sport and support the sporting infrastructure, both in England and across the UK
• before the end of this year, the government should initiate a nationwide communications campaign, similar to that of the “five a day” campaign, to emphasise the importance of children and young people engaging in at least 60 minutes of moderate activity every day
• the government work with Sport England, UK Sport and the National Lottery to review and revise the current funding models to enable sports organisations to accumulate greater reserves and, as a result, have more of a cushion to support themselves with should another situation like the COVID pandemic occur
• the government should set out the ways in which it intends to encourage schools across the country to make their facilities more available to community and grassroots sports clubs at a fair rate
• Sport England and Sport UK should be required to publish, at least annually, information about the diversity of candidates for all advertised roles in their organisations and the boards that make those appointments

The group of MPs said there were indications the COVID crisis had caused weight gain and a fall in activity levels in children.

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They said data from Sport England showing 100,000 fewer children met the recommended level of activity in 2020 than in 2019 was “of significant concern”.

The committee also warned of the yet unknown impact of England’s third national lockdown on people’s fitness.

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