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'25% of Irish children are falling off a cliff' | How to save child fitness

Ciaran Bradley
Ciaran Bradley

14:39 31 Jan 2021

As part of our 'Future of Sport' series, Professor Niall Moyna painted a stark picture of the fitness situation facing Ireland's children.

As Professor in the School of Health and Human Performance at DCU, Moyna has conducted large-scale testing of Ireland's children, including 213,000 taking part in bleep testing.

He believes that a combination of societal and parental factors have led to a truly dangerous situation facing Ireland's kids without intervention.

Fitness in the young

"Like it or not, the genie is out of bottle because kids today live in a digital era," says Moyna.

"A phone is an extension of them, it is like the end of the world to take a phone away from a child.

"We have to teach kids to live along with this technology. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, we spent most of our time foraging for food and physically-active all day. Our genes over four million years have evolved for us to be physically-active."

Moyna was absolutely stark in his assessment of where modern Irish children are with fitness.

"Most of the chronic diseases that afflict modern society, their genesis are in childhood.

"We have run a bleep test on 213,000 kids over a ten-year period, but it is only on cardiovascular fitness.

"My concern is that the top 75% are pretty ok - the bottom 25% of children are falling off a cliff. Falling off a cliff.

"That bottom even 20% will result in 90% of healthcare spending in 50-60 years.

"They are overweight, they are inactive and it is very difficult to get them engaged even in play."

Motor skills

Moyna relayed a story from Mick Bohan of the Dublin setup, whose day job is as a physical education teacher, about child health and fitness.

"Mick has been teaching P.E. now for thirty-plus years and his biggest issue at the moment is that the kids coming into secondary school at the moment don't have the basic motor skills to engage in physical education.

"That is analagous to a child coming into secondary school and not doing basic arithmetic, and then asking them to do algebra in first year. It just won't happen,

"We have got to get to grips with this. We are living in the twenty-first century. There is nothing important to a child in National School than their health."

Solutions

So what can be done to help child fitness?

"Scandinavia seems to be the model, with a large investment by their government - on preventative services as well. Healthy lifestyle is embedded.

"We have invested very little in infrastructure; they want people to go out and cycle. You're in a cycle lane and it just ends, that's it!

"We are trying to change that and re-engineer our environment.

"The reason I pick Scandinavia; they have much harsher winters than we have, and they still manage to do it."

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