Yesterday brought more news of a looming public health crisis. Over one in three English adults has pre-diabetes (blood glucose levels that place them at significant risk of full-blown type 2 diabetes) according to a new academic study. What is more, the proportion has more than tripled between 2003 and 2011.
Diabetes is already a huge public health problem. According to Diabetes UK, nearly one-tenth of the NHS budget (£12 billion a year) is spent on treating type 2 diabetes: lest we forget, a largely preventable illness.
Being more physically active cuts the risk of type 2 diabetes. Physically active children are more likely to grow up to be physically active adults. And there is robust evidence that improving outdoor play opportunities boosts children’s physical activity levels. (I will say more on this when my evidence report is published shortly.) All of which adds up to a compelling public health case for investment in play provision. So why are play advocates not saying more about the contribution we can make to the nation’s physical health?
This video (words by Hollie McNish, video by film maker Ben Dowden) stopped me short with its power and rhythm, and the interplay between words and images.
Playday, Bristol City Council
This post asks for your help in building the case for play. I am writing a report – aimed at Government – that gathers together evidence for the difference that play facilities and initiatives can make to children, families and communities. And I need your help in pulling together this evidence. I hope you agree this is an important and urgent task, given the scale of recent cuts to play facilities.
Yesterday’s Daily Mail ran a story about risk with a familiar headline: “Schoolchildren compensation claims for playground injuries running into millions, with thousands paid out for falling over or getting hit by a ball.” In fact, the headline was highly misleading, as the claims did not just cover playgrounds. Nonetheless, on the face of it some of the incidents – an eye injury from a ball, or a fall on snow and ice – suggest an over-reaction (though even here, the devil is in the detail). Whatever the truth about the level of claims, fear of litigation is a big driver of risk aversion around children’s play, as I know from my talks and workshops. So how should schools, councils, charities and businesses respond to this fear?
Over sixty years ago the architect Aldo van Eyck, who weaved outdoor play into the fabric of war-torn Amsterdam, was inspired by seeing how, after a snowfall, children came out of their homes and claimed the city’s spaces for themselves. Even today nothing gets children of all ages out of doors faster, or in greater numbers, than a decent layer of newly fallen snow.
Why is fresh snow such a universal draw? Surely the answer lies in its exceptional qualities as a material for construction and destruction. The invitations, offers and affordances of snow are extensive, inclusive and democratic. Anyone capable of moving their arms and legs can make a snow angel. No assembly instructions are required.