Body Neglect

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, lethargy and depression

Image by Thorsten Frenzel from Pixabay

This article explores the reasons why ‘The Body’ is one of nine key learning priorities in the proposed MAC life-based learning programme for 5- to 11-year-olds.


The importance of bodily health to life

Body health

The importance of maintaining good health can’t be stressed enough. A healthy body sets the stage for your day-to-day well-being and determines how well you’ll age. It also allows you to live an active and more full life, which means you’ll have a better quality of life as you age.

Livestrong: Why Is It Important to Maintain a Healthy Body?

Body health is required for mental health

Physical health and mental wellbeing are interlinked, and it is important that pupils understand that good physical health contributes to good mental wellbeing, and vice versa.

Gov.uk: Statutory Guidance: Physical health and mental wellbeing

Body health goes hand in hand with brain health

The most important part of your body is your brain and nervous system. 

“Your brain is you. Everything else is just plumbing and scaffolding.” Bill Bryson describing the brain in his 2019 book called The Body – A Guide for Occupants

Erin Mills: Optimum health: What is the most important part of your body?

The problem

Across the globe an increasing number of people are not looking after their bodies, as a result of which their bodily health suffers, their mental health suffers and their brains suffer.

The evidence

The epidemic of obesity is now recognised as one of the most important public health problems facing the world today. Adult obesity is more common globally than under-nutrition.

According to the World Health Organisation (2016), there are around 2 billion adults overweight, of those 650 million are considered to be affected by obesity (BMI ≥30 kg/m²). That equates to 39% (39% of men and 40% of women) of adults aged 18 or over who were overweight, with 13% obese.

World obesity: Prevalence of obesity

Increasing numbers of children are at risk:

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st.  Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and more likely to develop noncommunicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age. In addition to increased future risks, obese children experience breathing difficulties, increased risk of fractures, hypertension, early markers of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and psychological effects.

WHO: Overweight and obesity: Children and adolescents aged 5-19

In the UK obesity is increasingly prevalent in the population:

[Obesity is] a common problem in the UK that’s estimated to affect around 1 in every 4 adults and around 1 in every 5 children aged 10 to 11.

NHS: Overview: Obesity

Obesity is an increasing problem around the world, and particularly prevalent in the UK with the highest rates in Europe.

62% of the UK population is overweigh

healthexpress: Obesity Statistics: Facts and Figures in the UK

Public Health England cites alarming statistics about the growing number of overweight and obese children:

For year 6 children [aged 11], it is 34.3% of all children – equal to 197,888 children.

Public Health England: Record high levels of obesity in year 6 children [10-11 years of age]:

How serious is the challenge of obesity?

Graphic from Public Health England

The impact of obesity on children’s health and well-being

The impact of obesity on children’s long-term health is a major cause for concern among health professionals:

Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and more likely to develop [lifestyle] diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age. In addition to increased future risks, obese children experience breathing difficulties, increased risk of fractures, hypertension, early markers of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and psychological effects.

World Health Organisation: Global Health Observatory (GHO) data: Overweight and obesity

The impact of obesity on adults

Being overweight leads to lack of energy, reduced mobility and difficulties with concentration. Obesity also causes acute health problems in adults. It contributes to serious diseases such as diabetes, heart attacks, cancer, gastrointestinal conditions and strokes. It reduces life expectancy. It leads to nasty conditions such as lymphedema, which limits movement (swelling arms and legs to you and me), cellulitis (painful inflammation of the skin and skin tissues), pustules (pus lumps under stomach fat rolls) and carbuncles (pus-filled lumps under the skin).

The financial costs of obesity

Obesity is a major drain on the financial resources of health systems around the world. In the United Kingdom, for example, the National Health Service spends billions of pounds every year on treating obesity-related conditions.

It is estimated that the NHS spent £6.1 billion on overweight and obesity-related ill-health in 2014 to 2015. Annual spend on the treatment of obesity and diabetes is greater than the amount spent on the police, the fire service and the judicial system combined.

More broadly, obesity has a serious impact on economic development. The overall cost of obesity to wider society is estimated at £27 billion.

Public Health England: 31st March 2017: Health matters: obesity and the food environment

The answer

Physical education, as one of the eleven subjects in the National Curriculum for 5- to 11-year-olds, provides an opportunity for exercise twice a week.

Some schools include the ‘Daily Mile’ in their timetable — for example, for fifteen minutes every day before school starts. Other schools include five-minute classroom exercises between lessons.

However, physical education is making little impact on combating obesity in children or preventing children becoming obese later in life.

The obstacle

Many national curriculums, such as the National Curriculum in England, have a hierarchy of priorities, and physical education is not at the top of the list: language development and mathematics are. The importance of bodily health is not foremost in the minds of pupils, parents, teachers, school inspectors and government.

A concerted one-year health programme working with schools and local partners to reduce BMI in children made no statistical difference:

The 12 month intervention encouraged healthy eating and physical activity, including a daily additional 30 minute school time physical activity opportunity, a six week interactive skill based programme in conjunction with Aston Villa football club, signposting of local family physical activity opportunities through mail-outs every six months, and termly school led family workshops on healthy cooking skills.

The BMJ: Research: Effectiveness of a childhood obesity prevention programme

The conclusion is reinforced by Ofsted (England’s schools inspectorate) in its July 2019 report with reference also to the government’s obesity strategy:

Schools not ‘silver bullet’ to tackling childhood obesity

‘It is essential that schools do not get distracted from their core educational purpose. Education for health is essential and must be done well. But this will not happen if schools are devoting time and energy to things in which they are neither expert nor likely to have an impact,’ Amanda Spielman, Ofsted Chief Inspector

Gov.uk: Press release

The above quote says it all. Tackling obesity is not a school’s foremost priority. But it can be.

The solution

The solution is to pay greater attention to body education in primary schools (for children aged 5 to 11).

The Merged Action Curriculum (MAC), a life-based curriculum for children aged 5–11, brings focus to body education as one of nine equal learning domains.

Presence + Focus + Intention = Results

You can read more about body education through the indicative MAC body study action areas:

  1. A whole-school activity programme
  2. Physical development
  3. Learning about the body
  4. Looking after the body

But …

Raising the relevance of body education in schools is not enough on its own.

The conclusion of the above-mentioned one-year health programme to reduce BMI gives a clue to what else is needed:

Schools are unlikely to impact on the childhood obesity epidemic by incorporating such interventions without wider support across multiple sectors and environments.

The BMJ: Research: Effectiveness of a childhood obesity prevention programme

Ofsted stated in July 2019:

As the government’s recently published obesity strategy acknowledges, this is a complex societal issue, requiring solutions from many different players.

Gov.uk: Press release

It is vitally important to put body health on a national level through joined-up thinking. If schools do not have the expertise [as Amanda Spielman says in Ofsted’s press release] it can be provided via local partnerships with voluntary organisations and more effective links with public organisations.


Optimum learning in English and mathematics [a government top priority] depends on healthy bodies and alert minds. A focused priority on health is a ‘must’ for learning to flourish.

Michael Mac