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Daylight Saving Bill could curb childhood obesity

Daylight Saving Bill could curb childhood obesity Children outdoors more

Getting rid of British winter time could help to prevent child obesity, a new study claims.

Not putting the clocks back every October would mean children would play outside for longer during the evenings, getting more exercise and staying fitter.

The report, by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, claims kids of primary school age are at their most active between 5pm and 8pm during the summer - rain or shine.

So it is daylight, not the weather, that encourages kids to be more physically active.

As a result, staving off winter’s traditional long, dark nights could have a dramatic impact on their health.

The findings are a significant boost to the new Daylight Saving Bill currently being considered by the House of Commons.

Tabled by Conservative MP Rebecca Harris, it calls for the UK to fall in line with Central European Time, delaying sunset by one hour to fit with countries such as France, Italy and Germany.

The LSHTM study, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, analysed the physical activity of children aged between eight and 11.

Researchers placed body movement recorders – accelerometers – around the waists of 325 boys and girls during their normal daily routines for 817 days across all four seasons.

They found that the highest level of activity, mainly outdoor play, was recorded during the long summer days when there were 14 hours or more of daylight. They were far more likely to be active between 5pm and 8pm on those days than on shorter winter days when the afternoons became dark earlier.

On long days, the children spent 22 per cent of their time engaged in ‘out-of-home play’ in afternoons and early evenings, dropping to 13 per cent when the days became shorter.

The trend remained constant even taking into account rain, cloud, wind or sunshine.

Meanwhile, outdoor play was found to be a bigger factor in overall physical activity than structured sport sessions and cycling or walking to school.

Research fellow Dr Anna Goodman said: "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 their fitness and in preventing child obesity.

“This strengthens the public health argument for the Daylight Saving Bill… which proposes putting the clocks forward by an extra hour all year round."

Tam Fry, a spokesperson for the National Obesity Forum, added: "The longer the daylight hours, the longer kids will play. They really don't seem to care much about the weather but they do care about the dark.

"They need clearly to see the environment in which they can roam unfettered, and it should be no surprise that longer summer evenings provide that environment.

"They will be healthier and fitter from their outdoor play. Pack them all off to a safe space until bedtime.”

The researchers suggest that children spend less time playing outside on shorter, darker days because they are both less keen to and their parents are more concerned about letting them.

The fight against obesity is a formidable one. In 2008, the number of overweight children aged between two and 15 was around one in seven. But recent reports predict that by 2050 nearly half the population will be clinically obese.

Supporters of the Daylight Saving Bill say lighter winter evenings would also reduce road deaths, boost tourism and cut greenhouse emissions.

But others oppose the planned move, particularly campaigners in Scotland where the sun would not rise until 10am on some days. Some say darker mornings would lead to more accidents, negating the benefits of lighter evenings.

This article was published on Thu 10 November 2011

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