Could uniforms be making children fat? Scientists claim they might be stopping kids from getting enough exercise – but insist they don’t want them banned

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Children who wear school uniforms such as skirts are not as active, scientists say
  • Pupils are not doing hour of moderate-intensity exercise recommended by WHO

School uniforms might stop children from getting enough exercise – and schools should consider redesigning them to tackle soaring obesity, scientists claim.

Researchers at Cambridge University found youngsters who wear a uniform are less likely to do the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.

Girls are more affected than boys because they are less comfortable getting involved in active play while wearing skirts or dresses.

Dr Mairead Ryan said: ‘We are not trying to suggest a blanket ban on uniforms, but to present new evidence to support decision-making.

‘School communities could consider design, and whether specific characteristics of a uniform might either encourage or restrict any opportunities for physical activity across the day.

Regular physical activity helps support children’s physical and mental well-being. More active youngsters are also known to do better in class, researchers at Cambridge University say

‘Activities like walking or cycling to school, break time games, and after-school outdoor play can all help young people incorporate physical activity into their daily routines. 

‘That’s why we are interested in how clothing encourages such behaviours.’

She added regular physical activity helps support children’s physical and mental well-being. More active youngsters are also known to do better in class.

The study, reported in the Journal of Sport and Health Science, used data about the physical activity of 1.1million five-to-17-year-olds internationally.

It found that in countries where schools require uniforms, fewer pupils do the hour of moderate-intensity exercise recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

There was a consistent gap between boys’ and girls’ activity levels, with boys 1.5 times more likely to meet WHO recommendations across all ages. 

However, this gap was more stark among children who have to wear uniforms.

Dr Esther van Sluijs, of the Medical Research Council, said: ‘Girls might feel less confident about doing things like cartwheels and tumbles in the playground, or riding a bike on a windy day, if they are wearing a skirt or dress.

‘Social norms and expectations tend to influence what they feel they can do in these clothes. Unfortunately, when it comes to promoting physical health, that’s a problem.’

Last month, a major study found that almost one in four children aged 10 and 11 in England are obese, fuelled partly by pandemic lockdowns.

How much exercise children should do to stay healthy?

Children and young people ages five to 18 need to do two types of physical activity a week.

This includes aerobic exercise and exercises to strengthen their muscles and bones. 

Children and young people should aim to do an average of at least one hour of moderate or vigorous intensity physical activity a day. 

They should also take part in a variety of intensities of physical activity across the week to develop movement skills, muscles and bones. 

Plus, children and young people should cut their time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of inactivity throughout the day.

Moderate activity includes walking, playground activities, PE , sports like tennis and football or swimming and dance. Cycling, skateboarding and rollerblading also count. 

Activities that strengthen bones and muscles include gymnastics, football, martial arts and jumping. 

Source: NHS 

Cambridge University

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