A third of children in Britain are currently considered overweight or obese when they leave primary school. To tackle this issue, in 2012 a primary school in Stirling started encouraging all the children to run one mile a day. Four years on, the mile a day scheme has been so successful in tackling obesity that none of their pupils is overweight.
Come rain or shine teachers at St Ninians School in Stirling send pupils out for the daily run and claim it has dramatically improved students' behaviour and concentration in class, as well as their fitness.
The Daily Mile
Following the popularity of the scheme, a campaign has been launched to persuade all primary schools across the UK to adopt the model and put an end to childhood obesity.
‘I’d like the Daily Mile to be an entitlement for all children across the UK and I would urge the Health and Education Ministers to recommend to every school that they adopt it, as they have done in Scotland,’ Head teacher of St Ninians, Elaine Wyllie, who started the scheme at her Stirling primary, told The Telegraph.
But can running one mile a day really make a difference to your kids’ lives?
Dr Kay Brennan, Sports and Exercise Medicine Doctor, GP and Physical Activity Clinical Champion for Public Health England, is confident it will. 'The link between physical inactivity and obesity in children is well established. One in 10 children is obese when they start primary school and only 21 per cent of boys and 15 per cent of girls aged 5 to 15 in England take the physical activity they need for good development,' she says.
‘Getting young children to run or walk a mile each day will not solve our childhood obesity problem, but adding these extra few minutes of physical activity into the curriculum is a great way to reduce a child's sitting time and boost their metabolic rate, burning calories long after they have returned to class. Being physically active will also improve a child's self-esteem, body confidence, sleep and concentration. We also know from large studies that there is a strong link between being physically active and improved academic achievement.’
Kids in action
Martin Harris from Epsom has an 11-year-old daughter Sarah, who has been participating in the new scheme. ‘My daughter has been running a mile a day for about three months now, increasing the time running every few weeks,' says Martin. 'It has had a positive impact on her fitness. Since she started, my daughter has joined the local athletics club, and has a renewed vigour and passion to join me at Parkrun each Saturday, so I think the daily routine of running a mile per day has really helped. She really seems to enjoy it.’
Regular exercise has also had a positive impact on Sarah’s schoolwork. ‘It’s hard to say empirically if it has affected her academically, but in maths she has gone from struggling to consistently being in the top five in tests, but my genes could just be kicking in now!’
Caroline Knight from Perthshire in Scotland has a 7-year-old daughter Lana who recently took up the scheme. ‘They have only been doing it for three weeks so far, but I know all the children have been very enthusiastic about it,’ says Caroline. ‘I have observed some in passing and those who are not running are walking at a reasonable pace chatting. I think that is still acceptable as it encourages them to see movement in a positive way (even if it is having a walk chatting with your mates). Kids are so much more stationary these days, it concerns me greatly.'
Heidi Cassidy from West London's 7-year-old son Sean started running one mile a day in February. 'Initially it was just the Year 2 kids, but they have gradually introduced it to the rest of the school and it currently goes up to Year 4,' says Heidi. 'I asked my son if he feels that the running has had a positive impact on his fitness and he said resoundingly yes! Apparently the kids get quite competitive doing it and are gradually getting faster. We have noticed a definite improvement in him as well (even though he is sporty already).'
'Sean said it is easier to concentrate in the afternoon after the running as it "gets all the excess energy out of their system,"' added Heidi. 'It's hard for me to judge the focus otherwise, but I definitely feel he isn't as "droopy" when I pick him up from school. I am a huge fan of this initiative and all the kudos to the PE teacher who has implemented it and keeps it going. Sean loves it and makes sure every day to bring his runners.'
Heidi thinks introducing exercise into kids' lives at an earlier stage is important. 'By making it an integral part of their routine, I am hoping that it will stay that way. Not just something they reach to when older and desperate to lose weight, but a way to improve mental and physical energy daily.'
Dr Kay agrees that in order to tackle obesity, school is the perfect place to start. ‘It provides an ideal physical activity environment, as children can exercise with their friends. Being socially active at school and enjoying the experience will hugely improve the chances that a child will continue being active into adulthood, with the knock on of reducing their risk of disease and disability in the long term.’
But will the new model work? ‘My real hope is that the daily mile concept; with its obvious physical, mental and academic benefits helps ignite an activity revolution in schools,’ says Dr Kay. ‘15 minutes of a fun, energetic activity has so many advantages and the scheme has shown it is neither difficult or costly in implement.'