Health and well-being are determined by more than just waist size.

19 November 2012
Author: Kenneth Tharp

Government needs to look at the evidence and think about young people and their futures in a more holistic and joined-up way.

From next year, Councils will be responsible for the public health of children over the age of five. The Local Government Association (LGA) is about to discuss how they will tackle the issue of childhood obesity. Councillor David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board spoke on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning (Mon 19 Nov 2012) with regard to nutrition and healthy eating and the role of Local Authorities in helping to tackle obesity, the roots of which often start in childhood.

A regular diet of fast food is without doubt pernicious and, in contrast, the benefit of a well-balanced diet and the importance of encouraging healthy eating amongst young people are clearly evident, but diet is only part of the picture. We know that regular exercise is another important component, as fellow Today speaker Frank Furedi, former Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, was keen to point out. From my own point of view, I would argue that well-being is determined by more than just waist-size. The issue of how we help young people to be healthy, active, engaged, self-aware, confident, creative and adaptable should all be part of a broader and more holistic approach to improving the lot for the next generations.

The arts have a vital role to play in this. Dance is especially well placed to make a significant contribution for good in the fight against obesity, especially if it is included within the core curriculum for schools. We know that dance is the second-most popular physical activity (after football) among school-age young people. Evidence also tells us that many young people who are not interested in competitive sport, are more likely to be engaged in alternative activities such as dance.

Of course, those of us working in the artform would advocate for dance – with its inherent creative and artistic elements – being way, way more than simply an alternative form of aerobic exercise. It is nevertheless a robust and focussed physical discipline. If the Government is serious about addressing the health and well-being of young people and turning the tide of obesity, it would do well to recognise what dance can offer within the curriculum.

The Government is arguing that schools will have the freedom to choose the subjects they offer but, while there are many young people who would jump at the chance to study dance within school, the truth is that choice will simply not be on the table for many schools or young people if the current EBacc plans continue to exclude dance and all the other arts from the core curriculum.

The Cultural Learning Alliance points out that "Young people aged 5-14 will not have statutory access to these subjects in schools. These subjects could then become the preserve of those who can afford them. We have seen evidence that there is already a decline in the number of young people studying the arts from age 14, and the English Baccalaureate is driving a narrowing of the options on offer for our young people." They also flag up that it’s not just people from within the arts who are fighting their turf; organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry are also calling for the arts to be included in the English Baccalaureate.

It is vital that we recognise the threats, and do not consign our young people to a future blighted by type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The future health and well-being of the next generations and future of our nation will be badly served if we don’t get this right. The Government’s shifting of responsibility for obesity and young people’s health to Local Authorities must be part of a joined-up plan. The Government can do so much better for young people by using the evidence that is already there to join the dots in their own policy-making across government departments.

The future happiness and success of our young people are only partly served by thinking about their waist size and what ends up on their plate. If at the same time as wanting to ensure their physical health, we also want young people who have the broad range of creative and social skills necessary for success in every walk of life, we should think not only about what is taught but how it is taught and safeguard the place of the arts within the core curriculum.

I urge anyone who shares my concerns and who believe that dance and other arts subjects should take their place at the heart of education and form the sixth pillar within the new EBacc curriculum to sign the Bacc for the Future petition, write to you MP, and encourage others to do the same.

Meanwhile, The Place will continue to add its voice and advocate on behalf of the importance of arts in schools.


Cultural Learning Alliance's ImagineNation report arguing the case for cultural learning, with key statistics, quotes and other evidence.

Letter to the Sunday Telegraph leading figures from the arts and education, including Veronica Lewis (Director of LCDS), outline the threat to creativity in schools.

Judith Mackrell's Critic's Notebook The Guardian's dance critic argues that dance's place on the school curriculum "should be a no-brainer".


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