Young people given a sporting chance

    An American survey states that students who spend no time in
    extracurricular activities are 49 per cent more likely to use
    drugs, 37 per cent more likely to become teenage parents, 35 per
    cent more likely to smoke and 27 per cent more likely to be
    arrested than those engaged in them.

    A sceptic might say that the increased incidence of drugs, sex and
    trouble with the police has less to do with absence from Tuesday
    afternoon’s gym club and more to do with not attending school at
    all.

    That said, the government’s initiative to place children at the
    centre of its drive to improve the nation’s health is welcome. It
    will mean more extracurricular activity, alongside improved school
    meals, an end to vending machines flogging rubbish, a new magazine
    called Fit aimed at young men and a focus on “deprived
    communities”.

    The independent National Consumer Council will develop a “social
    marketing strategy that promotes health”. It will consider
    psychology and social research, “to determine how best to influence
    lifestyle and change behaviour”.

    Given the size of the advertising budgets for the food, alcohol and
    tobacco industries, one hopes that the new “social marketing
    strategy” will have the considerable investment it requires to put
    over a counter- message to glamorised self-destruction .

    Properly funded – so that, for instance, sports facilities are
    available not just inside school but free outside in deprived
    communities too – the initiative may have another not-so-obvious
    bonus. The government plans to provide health trainers from next
    year to encourage children to develop personal fitness plans.

    John Pitts, in his election briefing on youth crime in Community
    Care (3 March), referred to the work of American criminologist
    Elliott Currie. He argues that what makes a difference for socially
    disadvantaged young offenders is the chance of “changed lives” –
    for instance, in the offer of a scholarship to university.

    Sport has often been the route out for the talented youth from a
    tough background. The government’s initiative may offer the less
    gifted a range of routes out, enthused by the attention and – one
    hopes – the long-term support of a health trainer.

    A teenager who has been encouraged to take a pride in themself and
    place a value on their personal well-being has to be one who has
    also taken several significant steps towards a changed future.

    Yvonne Roberts

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