The World Health Organization is reporting an annual increase in the rate of childhood obesity, which is accelerating diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the younger generation. Ulster University’s Sport for LIFE programme is helping to combat this trend by educating 8-9 year olds about the importance of being active and eating balanced meals to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.
University students, who teach the children on a volunteer basis, deliver the 12-week programme in schools in areas of economic and social disadvantage. Throughout the programme schoolchildren learn why physical activity is so important and how healthy eating can positively impact their body and mind.
The programme offers the student volunteers hands-on experience working in a school environment, which helps to enhance the teaching and communication skills of these aspiring teachers and sports coaches.
Ulster University is this week hosting the latest Sport for LIFE Festival in Jordanstown, Derry and Omagh to celebrate the most recent cohort of schoolchildren to complete the programme. Hundreds of children are coming together to participate in group physical activity including fun team challenges and boxercise.
Professor Deirdre Brennan, Sport for LIFE Project Lead at Ulster University said: “Ulster University’s sport outreach unit is helping to instil healthy habits in children during their key influencing years. Since its launch in 2009, thousands of children from across the island of Ireland have taken part in the Sport for LIFE programme and it has been hailed by the World Health Organization as a best-practice case study for promoting physical activity to underprivileged groups.
“Childhood obesity is on the rise and it is vital that young people are educated about the major health risks of inactivity. Schoolchildren who participate are truly benefiting from being more physically active. Our student volunteers also gain enormously from programme delivery as they get to work in real teaching settings with professional teachers.”
The Sport for LIFE initiative is led by Ulster University and run in partnership with Dublin City University, University College Cork, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and Sligo Institute of Technology to deliver the programme on an all-island basis.