Wednesday, 4 May 2011

"Britain is raising 'a generation of couch potatoes'"

Articles like this on the Independent's website really annoy me.  It is a small article that uses a few pieces of data to infer a correlation/causation.  These data points (from a sample of 1,500 5-15 year olds) are:

1. 15% of children can't swim
2. 10% are unable to ride a bike
3. 25% have never run a distance of 400m
4. Around 50% of children have surfed the internet
5. A third don't own a bike
6. Two thirds own a mobile phone
7. 75% own a games console.

From this selective data they have inferred that children are being raised as couch potatoes.  I think the information clearly shows that more children can ride a bike or swim than own a games console.  The item points are not mutually exclusive either - just because a child said no to being able to swim (their school may not have a swimming pool - I know mine didn't & may never have been somewhere where it was expected) doesn't mean that they aren't one of the two thirds who own a bike (the same amount that own a mobile phone)!

I find articles like this so annoying because they obtain data and try and manipulate it into sensationalist information.  At no point do they offer comparatives - for instance, 10 years ago x% of children could swim, the European average is x%, they just present the data in a way to make you think that you should be appalled.  The study was done for some PR for Tata Steel who are running a series of mini triathlons over the summer.  I'm sure this is a good thing - anything to get people/children active, they should be applauded - however just because a child can't complete all three legs doesn't mean that they are a couch potato.  In fact I have dated a girl who had never learnt to swim and also another who had never had a reason to ride a bike, both of them were very active people and most definitely not couch potatoes!

The worst part of the article is this reference:

"The pressure group Parents Outloud criticised schools for not devoting more time to physical exercise."

It appears to me totally unrelated to the data provided.  My schools didn't have a swimming pool or any cycle equipment, so as a result (apart from the odd trip for "swimming" in Primary School) they didn't teach either of the two activities particularly highlighted here - this didn't ,mean we weren't encouraged to exercise.  Maybe Parents Outloud think schools should be doing more with the other statistics - such as stopping children having the most up to date electronics at home...  or maybe they just want to jump on any statistic that they can use to back up their agenda (however noble that agenda is).

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