Number of overweight children rises by a fifth because of lazy summer holidays spent staring at screens

Laura Donnelly
Almost 40 per cent of all sports facillities in England sit behind school gates  - Paul Grover for the Telegraph

Obesity levels are soaring over school summer holidays because children are spending four hours a day staring at their screens, research suggests. 

A study of 400 children found that just six weeks’ holidays was enough to reverse major fitness gains - and increase the number of overweight and obese children by one fifth.

The British study by ukactive found that during the academic year, the pupils aged nine and ten made steady improvements in their fitness levels.  

But around 80 per cent of gains were reversed during lazy summer holidays, in which PE lessons and walks to school were replaced with long days hunched over gadgets.

At the start of the summer, 20 per cent of participants were overweight or obese. 

But just six weeks later, the figure was 24 per cent.

It came as a survey involving more than 1,000 families found that children were spending an average of 174 hours on gadgets, games consoles or watching television over the six weeks - an average of more than four hours’ screen time daily. 

The research by Sainsbury’s came as the supermarket giant launched a chain of summer camps, costing £7.50 a day, offering children sports such as tennis, cricket, dodgeball and football, as well as arts and crafts. 

The 70 clubs, based mainly in schools, which also serve a healthy lunch and snacks, are aimed at those aged five to 15 and are run by holiday club provider Premier Education.

Judith Batchelar, director of Sainsbury’s Brand, said: “We know from speaking to parents that the summer holidays can be a difficult time to keep kids active and entertained without having to spend a fortune. 

“Our Active Kids holiday clubs are designed to help by giving children the chance to try a variety of exciting new activities whilst meeting new friends and keeping their fitness levels up during the summer holidays. We hope children taking part in a club this summer continue to keep up with their new hobbies and head back to school with a spring in their step.”  

Chairman of ukactive, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, backed the plans. She said: “We have a national crisis with our children’s health, as today’s generation is the least active in history. This situation is magnified during the school summer holidays, where children lose up to 80 per cent of their fitness levels across the six week break.”

Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said too many children were being allowed a stream of junk food during the holidays, with childminders and grandparents falling prey to “pester power”. om speaking to DH, it seems 20 million could get same day appt with pharmacist for minor issues.

Earlier this month fitness leaders said schools should be kept open all summer, running sports clubs, in a bid to tackle Britain's growing obesity crisis.

They urged ministers to fund a new programme which would give children access to sporting facilities and playing fields throughout the holidays.

Sports leaders called on the Treasury to take action to tackle record levels of obesity and inactivity.

Almost 40 per cent of all sports facilities in England sit behind school gates - but most of these cannot be accessed during school holidays, they warned.