According to scientists at the London School of Hygeine and Tropical Medicine, childhood obesity could be significantly reduced if the UK didn’t lose an hour in the autumn.
The research, which measured the body movements of 325 children in Hertfordshire in their daily routine for 817 days over the four seasons, found they were most active on days with 14 or more hours of daylight.
Authors of the study, which is published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, said the trend remained constant – regardless of the weather and could well be used as evidence in favour of the Daylight Saving Bill, which would bring the UK into line with Central European Time for a trial period of three years.
On long days, the children spent 22 per cent of their time taking part in what is described as “out of home play”, while the figure decreased to 13 per cent when the day became shorter.
“The fact that kids spend more time playing outdoors and are more physically active overall on these longer days could be important at a population level for promoting fitness and preventing child obesity,” says researcher Dr Anna Goodman. “This strengthens the public health argument for the Dayling Saving Bill under consideration in the House of Commons, which proposes putting the clocks forward by an extra hour all year round.”
The Bill, tabled by Conservative MP Rebecca Harris, would mean lighter winter evenings, which supporters claim would cut road deaths, boost tourism and reduce energy bills. However, whether not having to pull the curtains quite so early would result in overweight children slimming down seems a grand claim.
“If I thought I had spent the last 20 years working to reduce childhood obesity when the answer all along was to simply turn the clocks back then I would feel a little silly,” says Professor Paul Gately, founder of MoreLife, the Leeds-based weight management organisation.
“There is evidence to show that weight gain is seasonal. Certainly in the northern hemisphere during the winter we tend to eat more and do less, but simply not turning back the clocks will have very little effect. Those children who eat badly and don’t exercise now will continue to do so whether it’s light outside or not.”
Countless Government initiatives have tried to tackle the issue of childhood obesity, but time and again the results appeared flawed. The reason, says Prof Gately, is simple.
“There has been a tendency to throw money at the problem without ensuring it is properly targetted,” he says. “A good example was the school sport strategy, which it was claimed would reduce obesity levels.
“In fact, vast amounts of money were spent and really it only benefited the top 25 per cent of kids who were already good at sport. I don’t have a problem with that, but I do have a problem when it’s dressed up as a solution to obesity because it’s not.
“Spending money across the board to target the 30 per cent of youngsters who are obese doesn’t seem to me to make sense.
“It would be far better to take that money and spend it specifically on direct treatment. Only then will we really start to make a difference.”