Lack of physical activity during the summer holidays is having a detrimental effect on children’s fitness levels, a major study has found.
The study – the first of its kind to measure fitness levels before and after the summer holidays – showed that during the academic year, pupils made steady improvements in their fitness levels.
But progress was reversed during lazy summer holidays, in which PE lessons and walks to school were replaced with long days hunched over gadgets.
Experts said the findings were “alarming” and warned that a generation was heading towards an inactivity “time bomb” which will sharply increase their risk of deadly diseases in later life.
They urged the Government to put action to tackle Britain’s couch potato lifestyles at the heart of its long-delayed childhood obesity strategy.
The study of schools across the North West tracked more than 400 children aged eight and nine over a 13 month period during the 2014/15 academic year.
By the time they reached the end of summer term, pupils were able to run an average of 810 yards (740 metres) during shuttle run tests. But when the same tests were employed in September, the average run was just 660 yards (605 metres) – a drop of 148 yards (135 metres).
Meanwhile tests on the children’s cardio-respiratory fitness showed that 80 percent of a boost in aerobic capacity gained during the academic year was lost over the summer holidays.
Lead author Dr Steven Mann, research director at health body UKactive said: “This research shows for the first time that the UK’s youth inactivity pandemic stems from inactive summer holidays.
“In years gone by school summer breaks would be spent being active outdoors building dens and playing games, whereas today’s generation are more likely to be found hunched over screens or playing on computers.”
The health body urged parents to try to make sure their children spent more time outdoors, especially with games and sports involving the whole family.
Dr Mann said it was hard to “turn back the clock” to a bygone era, when children roamed out more, but said modern crazes like Pokemon Go could encourage families to be more active.
The researcher said inactive childhoods caused immediate damage to physical development, attention span and academic performance, and shortened lives.
“Physical inactivity at any age significantly increases the risk of deadly diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, which makes it all the more vital that we instil physical activity into our daily lives from the cradle to the grave,” he said.