Imperial College London

One million primary school children signed up to run The Daily Mile

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School children running

One in five primary schools in England have registered for The Daily Mile, an initiative that encourages children to run or jog for 15 minutes daily.

The findings, from researchers at Imperial College London, University College London and the University of Cambridge, and published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, suggest the scheme has been particularly popular in urban and deprived areas and could be reaching over one million children in 3,502 primary schools across England.

Currently less than half of children and young people in the UK meet the recommendation of an average of 60 minutes of physical activity daily Tishya Venkatraman Study author

The initiative was launched in Scotland in 2012 by headteacher Elaine Wyllie MBE as an initiative to incorporate activity in the school day. The Daily Mile encourages children to run or jog, for 15 minutes, at their own pace, every day.

The research was funded by the NIHR School for Public Health Research as well as The Daily Mile Foundation, supported by INEOS.

Tishya Venkatraman, first author of the research from Imperial’s School of Public Health, said: “Currently less than half of children and young people in the UK meet the recommendation of an average of 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Our results are encouraging as they suggest one in five schools have registered for The Daily Mile initiative, which builds activity into the school day. The Daily Mile can be carried out at safe social distances, which makes it suitable for our current times.”

Tishya Venkatraman added: “It is reassuring that previously hard to reach groups, like those schools in deprived urban postcodes, and those with large pupil numbers, are just as likely to sign up to The Daily Mile as other schools. This is important because so often wide rollout of health policies and interventions can in some cases act to widen health disparities – especially interventions that depend on individuals voluntarily changing their behaviour.

"Health behaviour is not always a choice, especially for children who do not always have control over when they are allowed to be active. Teachers say the appeal of The Daily Mile is its simplicity and adaptability which is reflected in its widespread uptake.”

Disadvantaged primary schools

The study included all state funded primary schools in England from 2012-2018. It is the first national study to characterise primary school uptake of a whole school-based physical activity intervention.

The study suggested The Daily Mile appears to be reaching more disadvantaged primary school populations in urban areas where obesity prevalence is highest.

On a national scale, this can address many pressing needs around children’s health across the UK Elaine Wyllie MBE The Daily Mile founder

The Daily Mile registered schools include those with both high and low educational attainment, and are in areas with high and low physical activity. The initiative had been popular in most geographical regions across the country.

The researchers add there was significant variation in registration to The Daily Mile by local authority, which is in keeping with other research that has found that some local authorities to be actively promoting The Daily Mile.

The research team explained their data only shows the number of schools that registered for the initiative and does not give an indication of whether the schools continued to participate.

No child left behind

Elaine Wyllie MBE, Founder of The Daily Mile, said: “I’m so pleased that this new research highlights the social reach of The Daily Mile. It demonstrates how children in all areas of the country are enjoying the benefits it brings and on a scale which can help to address the health inequality gap faced by disadvantaged children.

"All children, regardless of their circumstances, are given free access to an enjoyable and sustainable physical activity which impacts positively on their health and wellbeing. The sheer simplicity of The Daily Mile helps to remove barriers to participation in physical activity and it can be introduced easily in any school, anywhere in the country, with no child left behind. On a national scale, this can address many pressing needs around children’s health across the UK.”

The Daily Mile could be a much needed scheme for helping children stay well throughout the pandemic Professor Sonia Saxena Study author

 A related study, launched this month, will track the impact of The Daily Mile initiative across all Greater London primary schools. Called the iMprOVE study, the research is one of the largest evaluations of its kind to monitor the impact of The Daily Mile on children’s physical activity, health and wellbeing over their primary school years.

Professor Sonia Saxena, senior author of the study and head of the Child Health Unit at Imperial added: “It’s important to ensure children get regular classroom breaks to reduce the spread of COVID 19, as well as benefit from getting the chance to be physically active after these long months of lockdown. Physical activity is crucial for children’s physical and mental health, and The Daily Mile could be a much needed scheme for helping children stay well throughout the pandemic.”

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'Sociodemographic profiles, educational attainment and physical activity associated with The Daily Mile registration in primary schools in England – a national cross-sectional linkage study’ is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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Kate Wighton

Kate Wighton
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