Hull school pioneers anti-obesity programme

Ashwell Academy in Hull. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
Ashwell Academy in Hull. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
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A SECONDARY school in Hull is to become the first in the UK to introduce a radical anti-obesity programme into its curriculum, which will see pupils undergo fitness training every day.

From January, students at Ashwell Academy will spend a total of three and a half hours per week doing some form of physical

exercise – 75 per cent more than the national average.

The frequency of PE lessons will increase from weekly to daily activities, with pupils performing exercises such as squats, press-ups, lunges and burpees.

Pupils who buy school dinners will also be encouraged to plump for a healthier option that contains less fat, salt and additives in an attempt to tackle Britain’s £5.1billion epidemic.

The independent initiative, called the Schools and National Anti-Obesity Program, will be incorporated into the Academy’s curriculum on January 6, 2015 and will run for an initial trial period of six weeks.

If this is a success then the program will continue until 2018.

Its aim – to fight childhood obesity and support pupils’ wellbeing by giving them a “positive and purposeful experience” with exercise - is nothing new.

But unlike existing reward and advisory schemes, such as Healthy Schools London, which is sponsored by Boris Johnson, SNAP is designed to be integrated into the curriculum, rather than run in conjunction with it.

If the trial at Ashwell Academy is successful, SNAP looks set to roll out in schools across the UK next year.

Other schools, including Headington, an exclusive girl’s school in Oxford, and Longhill Primary School in Hull, East Yorks., have already expressed a “sincere interest”.

Mike Birkinshaw, Headteacher at Ashwell Academy, which specialises in behavioural difficulties, said: “We are keen to introduce a better standard of physical education into our curriculum whilst being aware that our students’ health and wellbeing generally should also remain a priority.

“We have already introduced healthier lunch options to tackle obesity, but it isn’t enough by itself.

“Children need to be more active as inactivity results in obesity and other health issues that can continue into adulthood.

“As a school we feel that we have a duty of care to do all we can to safeguard our pupils against the growing problem of childhood obesity and believe that SNAP will align perfectly with our aims.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), childhood obesity is one of the most “serious public health challenges of the 21st Century”.

In a UK context, figures from the National Child Measurement Programme 2012/13 show that almost a third of 10 to 11 year olds and more than a fifth of four to five year olds were either obese or overweight.

But despite obesity being largely preventable, SNAP’s brainchild, Daniel Fallon says schools have been “generally unaware” of the “straightforward” measures that can be put in place to curb it at a grassroots level.

Mr Fallon, a recently retired Navy Petty Officer, drew on his 13 years as a fitness instructor and clinical exercise specialist to create a program specifically designed for schools.

It has been devised with a view of helping teachers to incorporate simple but more structured fitness training into and around traditional, curriculum-based PE lessons.

Pupils are taught to squat, for example, and encouraged to do so when picking-up a football.

This is more beneficial to the leg and back muscles than simply bending-over from the hip.

They are also taught to twist correctly when playing netball, and to lunge when tying their shoelaces.

According to NHS figures, 19 per cent of children in East Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire are obese or “dangerously overweight”.