Summer Sofa Syndrome poses health risk for childrenGetty

Summer holidays pose a serious health risk to 4.3 million UK children. But it's not because they're out and about risking life and limb climbing trees or haring around at break neck speed on their bikes.

In a sad sign of the times, the risk to their health comes instead from so-called 'Summer Sofa Syndrome'. During their six weeks of 'freedom', an alarming third of British children will spend a huge part of their holiday slumped on the sofa watching films, playing video games or surfing the net.

Because of this inactivity, weight management company MoreLife, which works with the NHS, warns that some kids will put on up to half a stone during the summer break and for many, these extra pounds can lead to a lifetime weight gain that may never be lost, leaving them more at risk from a number of life-shortening health problems including diabetes, fatty liver disease, some cancers and depression too.

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School provides a strong structure for children for 36 weeks of the year, with specific meal times and physical activities set out as part of the curriculum. But once the holidays come around it's easy for this structure to collapse.

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Only 29% of children now regularly enjoy outdoor adventures such as playing in parks, cycling and climbing trees during the holidays. Stricter parental controls mean many children are confined to the home, where they stay glued to the telly or their laptops.

What's more, children also sleep longer than on school days (an average of 10 hours) and they also have more of a 'free reign' as to what foods they eat from the family treat cupboard. Kids also tend to get more spending money over the school holidays and buy themselves snacks more frequently.

Paul Gately, Professor of Child Obesity and founder of MoreLife says: "Summer Sofa Syndrome is a serious problem. Many children are consuming the equivalent of 18,000 extra calories during the course of the six-week break, that's 3000 a week, the equivalent of eating an extra 36 chocolate bars or 215 chocolate digestive biscuits over the school holidays. It's not just overweight children that are at risk of becoming obese, normal weight kids are at risk of gaining weight as well, with a 6% reduction of fitness during the school holidays."

There are now 4.5 million overweight children in Britain, 2.8 million of whom are obese – a figure that has tripled over the last 30 years. If things continue in the same vein, by 2050, 70% of girls and 55% of boys may be overweight or obese.

"£35 billion a year is spent on obesity related illnesses, while only £6 million is actually allocated to treating childhood obesity," says Professor Gately, whose company runs weight management camps over the summer months.

"Habits are developed at an early age and that's where we come in. MoreLife is all about changing behaviours to result in a healthier life – but it's not about a strict boot camp style. Our weight management and health improvement programmes aim to give people more confidence, more health, more energy and ultimately, more life and that's why we think it's really important to offer our Summer clubs and residential camp for families throughout the UK starting in July. "

MoreLife has suggested some great ways to get moving, become healthier and have fun during the summer holidays. And it doesn't need to cost a lot of money to get kids outside and active.

Here are some simple activity ideas along with the number of calories you can burn and the equivalent food calorie count.

20 mins jumping on trampoline = 400 calories = 2 slices of margarita pizzas

45 mins garden football = 320 calories = 6 chicken nuggets

10 mins walk to your friend's house = 35 calories = 1 chocolate finger

40 mins dancing with friends = 240 calories = ham & cheese white toastie

30 mins bike ride = 210 calories = jam doughnut

40 mins playing wii fit = 140 calories = packet of crisps

20 mins walk to feed the ducks = 70 calories = fun size chocolate bar


For more information about MoreLife's summer clubs or to receive a free child health check, call 0113 812 5233 or visit www.more-life.co.uk