Lack of exercise among children during the Corona pandemic: Germany’s stunted sports country

Recently on a Sunday on Anzengruber Strasse in Berlin-Neukölln. Children draw pictures with chalk on the asphalt, ride scooters or play soccer in the middle of the street. The parents stand aside and talk. The atmosphere of a large and peaceful family celebration reigns. Usually cars here, some with loud screeching engines, zip down the street turning into the infamous and louder Sonnenallee. But one Sunday of the month is reserved for children. Like some other streets in Berlin, Anzengruber is a temporary playing street. And they all turned out well.

Development experts agree that play and movement are essential for children. The only thing discussed at this point is how much play and exercise children need. The Department of Health recommends that children exercise for three hours a day. But there are also teachers who believe that eight hours is appropriate, especially for young children. They say: movement should be the natural state of young children, not sitting and lying down.

But the latter has become a habit for many children and young adults more than a year into the epidemic. School sports and clubs sometimes came to a complete standstill. A recent University of Munich study came to the conclusion that children have been exercising up to 60 percent less since the start of the epidemic than in previous years.

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On Thursday, the German Children’s Fund published an ‘opportunity’ survey, which reported that 90 percent of children surveyed said they had missed out on exercise and sports during the Corona pandemic. These are all questionable findings that the German Children’s Fund would like to draw attention to, particularly in connection with International Games Day, which is celebrated on Friday.

The federal government must now invest more in children’s and youth sports, says Holger Hofmann, national director of the German children’s charity. He even has a specific suggestion on how the policy might contribute: “Among other things, you should give every child free access to a gym for a year.”

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At first glance, the proposal seems audacious. Many of Germany’s nearly 88,000 sports clubs are very limited financially, and some have existential concerns. Above all, the volunteers are running away from them. Then there is the partially dilapidated sports infrastructure. “It takes a huge amount of effort on the part of politicians, and now the money has to be made,” says Claudia Neumann, games and movement consultant at the German Children’s Fund. She warns that if there is no support from politicians, this could have negative consequences for children and young people for many years to come.

Especially since even before the outbreak of the virus, the supposed sporting country was not in very good shape across the board. According to the latest Child and Youth Health Study in Germany (KiGGS), 15.4 percent of children aged 3 to 17 are overweight or even obese. Engine performance also slows down at a low level. Most children and teens can’t stand on one leg for more than a minute, and many can’t sit up.

Children’s motor skills have recently become stagnant at a low level.Photo: Photo Alliance / dpa

The youth of the country where Friedrich Ludwig Jan invented gymnastics are as tough as planks. And the pandemic made things much worse. In the past few months, there have always been developments from sports to looking at children’s and youth sports more distinctly from general measures to protect against infection. Not closing by itself. But the demands, on the example of the German youth athletes, for some freedoms for children and youth sports, were not taken into account. Martial arts have been categorized as judo, in which the players are in close physical contact, like badminton, a sport in which the players are somewhat apart from each other.

Not only sports disappointed by politics. Pediatricians in particular sounded the alarm. They have already noticed an increase in obesity. The true consequences of the pandemic year are only likely to be known in the coming months.

“It should have been a more unique approach,” says Claudia Neumann of the German Children’s Fund. “Children were not seen as subjects, but primarily as objects who should receive minimal education and care, and primarily as potential vectors of disease.”

But Neumann’s view should not go any further than that. The appeal of the German Children’s Fund aims to draw attention to the importance of the topic – and to put politicians under pressure. Socially disadvantaged children and youth in particular should benefit from support services for sport from the public sector. Neumann believes that there should not be any financial obstacles to its practice.

Barriers not only impede access to organized club sports. In recent years, so-called daily movement has increasingly come to the fore in the discussion around exercise. And with each passing year, the realization is growing that there is still a lot to catch up with in this country.

The omissions in urban planning over the past few decades cannot be reversed quickly. Not enough space for exercise, not enough parks, too many streets. This is another reason why gyms are so important. “There are national athletic recommendations from the Department of Health,” Claudia Neumann says. “This is a good read too. But there is a problem with the implementation.” So far, not much has happened in this direction. This could change now due to the consequences of the pandemic. The ball is now in politics. Let’s see if she plays all this time.

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