Category Archives: Health

Covid-19 and children: what does the science tell us, and what does this mean as the lockdown is eased?

Key points
As this is a longish post – perhaps a 10-minute read – here are the main takeaways:

  • Children are much less likely to become seriously ill from Covid-19 than adults, and appear less likely to become infected.
  • Unlike with influenza, it appears that children are not more likely than adults to spread the disease, and may be significantly less likely.
  • There are good grounds for thinking that outdoor environments present a low risk of infection compared to indoor ones, especially where the time spent in close proximity to other people is short.
  • Pandemic control measures are likely to lead to significant collateral damage to children, with the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children worst affected.
  • Government, local authorities and other public agencies should take a balanced approach to supporting children through the pandemic. They should:
    • Encourage schools and child care centres to take learning activities outdoors, prioritising play and breaks, and maximize outdoor play time, as they reopen.
    • Open all remaining closed parks, review the closure of playgrounds, and take a supportive approach to the oversight of children’s play and socialising in public space.
    • Address the circumstances of disadvantaged children as a matter of urgency.
    • Prioritise children’s active travel to school, to help reduce peak hours congestion.
    • Closely monitor emerging evidence, especially from countries that have relevant experience of relaxing measures.
    • Encourage the public to engage with and understand the evidence base, and keep them informed as it grows.

Introduction
The government’s plans for relaxing the lockdown, including greater freedom to spend time outside, and the possible re-opening of schools, have unsurprisingly generated huge debate. At the same time, evidence is growing on how Covid-19 affects children, and of children’s role in the spread of the disease. This post shares my take on that evidence base and its implications.

'Park closed' sign outside park in Waltham Forest

The post starts with a summary of the clinical and epidemiological evidence base. It then looks at the collateral damage to children of the pandemic control measures. It closes with implications for policy and practice, with a particular focus on children’s play and mobility.

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Could street play hold the key to creating more sustainable, livable cities?

This week marked a milestone in the UK street play movement, with the publication of three new reports.

The first is an evaluation report by the University of Bristol [pdf link], published by Play England, which looked mainly at the health outcomes for children. The second is a report [pdf link] from Playing Out, the Bristol-based national hub for street play, of a survey of people directly involved in street play sessions. The third, written by me [pdf link] and also published by Play England, explores the issues around taking street play initiatives forward in disadvantaged areas.

This blog post from Playing Out gives a helpful overview of the three reports (as well as a flavour of the high level of press interest).

Boy lying on skateboard in street with child cyclist behind

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Playground head injuries: what does recent research show?

Fox news screengrab playground concussionsA medical study [pdf link] has just been published that looks at hospital emergency department (ED) visits for concussions (or to use the clinical term, traumatic brain injuries or TBIs) to children arising from playground incidents in the USA.

My aim in this post is to give a summary of the study and to scrutinize some of its conclusions. I plan in a future post to discuss its wider implications.

The study used data from a national injury surveillance system to work out injury rates for each year between 2001 and 2013. It also looked at whether or not children were admitted to hospital and the playground equipment involved, amongst other factors, and it analysed the data for trends. It claims to be the first national study on playground-related TBIs since 1999.

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All party group puts play at the heart of proposed child health strategy

Positive news from parliament for the first time in a long time, with the launch of a new report on play from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood. Central to the report is its call for the promotion of play as part of a ‘whole child’ strategy. Read more on the website of Adrian Voce, former director of Play England.

Policy for Play

A Parliamentary report on children’s play, published today, calls for play to be at the centre of a ‘whole child’ approach to health and wellbeing.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood, chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin, today launches its long-awaited report on children’s play.

Announcing the report, the group says that ‘whilst there is broad consensus about the importance of physical activity in the battle against obesity, play (policy) has lost political momentum in recent years and the report calls for a fresh approach’.

In a statement released alongside the report today, Baroness Benjamin says that the group’s ‘proposals on play are ‘integral to a “whole child” strategy for health and wellbeing and should not be regarded as an “add on”. Of course encouraging children to participate in sport is important, but in practice, not all children are “sporty”. Play benefits children of all ages…

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My new report ‘The Play Return’ makes a powerful case to policy makers

Play Return report cover

Click image for pdf

Today – the 27th annual Playday – sees the publication of my evidence review, entitled The Play Return: A review of the wider impact of play initiatives. As reported on the BBC website this morning, the report summarises the measurable impact of initiatives to improve play opportunities.

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Evidence is vital in making the case for play

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.

Two children on tyre swingBeing 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?

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