Guest post: Exercise and healthy eating in schools – is it as simple as ‘energy in = energy out’?

Following last week’s news around the value of exercise versus nutrition for maintaining a healthy weight, the chief executives of the Children’s Food Trust – Linda Cregan – and Youth Sports Trust – Ali Oliver – have co-written a joint post on the balance of this in schools…

Obesity is a worldwide pandemic and as we saw again this week, consistently makes headlines as the biggest threat to children’s long term health. However, it is a common misconception that this is due to people eating more calories. Research in fact suggests that energy intake has declined since the 1970s, with fat content reducing in our food since the 1980s. Yet around a third of children are overweight or obese as they leave primary school. So what’s behind the headlines?

First – and crucially – children around the world have stopped moving! In fact, we are simply not doing enough physical activity to address this decline in physical and emotional health as a species. Recent headlines, as well as the publication of the major parties political manifestos give us cause to reflect on how we all need to move more and more often – and much of this starts with inspiring children to be active at school.

Secondly, many children aren’t eating well. A recent survey for CBBC’s Newsround found most children aren’t getting enough fruit and veg. Too many teachers report children turning up for school hungry, or fuelled by little more than energy drinks for a full day of lessons.

Our obesogenic society makes it tough for children to navigate the marketing messages they get about food, and to grasp that cheap doesn’t always mean nutritious. Understanding what it means to eat healthily is a life skill, just as important as learning to read, handle numbers or use a computer – so making sure our schools are delivering and modelling great food and a great meal experience must be a key part of every child’s education.

So that ‘energy in versus energy out’ equation is one every child needs to be equipped to solve if we’re going to create active, healthy adults of the future. And now’s the time to think about how your school helps children understand the logic in more than just the abstract: with Ofsted putting a focus on your school’s approach to children’s health and wellbeing in the new Common Inspection Framework from September, you’ll need to be able to show inspectors what your school’s doing to get children moving more and eating well.

A whole school approach to physical activity and food can increase attendance rates, improve behaviour and have a positive effect on achievement[i] but with performance pressures and financial burdens placed on our schools, school leaders may not always feel empowered to focus on children’s health. For 20 years the Youth Sport Trust has been developing programmes that develop physical literacy and body confidence, increase opportunities to move and help young people and schools reap the benefits of moving with much success. The Children’s Food Trust has also been helping schools all over the country to give children better, healthier lunchtimes for a decade.

The School Food Plan – universally welcomed as a blueprint for the next phase of school food improvement – has made a strong start, getting more practical cooking over the final hurdle into the school curriculum, and free meals for all under-sevens. The Primary Sport Premium also sets out the government’s vision for physical education, school sport and physical activity with dedicated investment to every primary school in England. But some schools still find it hard to make time to focus on the dynamic duo of physical activity and good food for children’s health. How do we help them take the plunge?

Every equation needs a method. And when it comes to physical activity and good food, it’s about variety and choice, supporting good skills in the school workforce and weaving healthy lifestyle choices through every part of school life. Giving children the opportunity to explore, have fun and understand their bodies is the key to unlocking the conundrum that currently clouds health and wellbeing of the current and future generations.

It’s an equation we know the answer to: together, we’ve got to do more to pass that knowledge on.


National School Sport Week 2015 runs from 22 June and the Youth Sport Trust has set up the Give Me 5 challenge encouraging schools to get their pupils to take part in five hours of PE and sport throughout the week. For more information on how to take part, click here.

Get funded support to encourage more children to choose healthy school meals via


Any questions, comments or feedback for Linda Cregan or Ali Oliver? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. NorthernCell1

    SchoolsImprove TY for such regular, interesting, informative tweets (even with power problems!) we like the image addition too ????????✅????

  2. SchoolsImprove

    NorthernCell1 Thank you – much appreciated (if I can free up some time the site should get a much needed makeover soon too)

  3. LindsayGrahamUK

    SchoolsImprove good guest blog by LindaCreganCFT and YouthSportTrust today ( like the new visual too )

  4. The All Party Parliamentary Group on A Fit and Healthy Childhood will be publishing their latest report – Food in Schools and The Teaching of Food – in a few weeks time.

  5. journalfhc

    SchoolsImprove Agree, lessons in healthy eating essential. No’s of obese young pregnant women a concern – reliance on fast food, can’t cook

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