Sir Steve Redgrave is calling on schools across Gloucester to take the initiative to help tackle the city’s rising obesity epidemic.
The five time Olympic rowing champion was speaking as patron of the Cardiac Risk in the Young charity at a heart screening event for young people at the University of Gloucestershire.
His comments echoed the sentiments of his Olympic peer Lord Coe, who has also called on families, schools and businesses to seize the moment in beating sedentary lifestyles in young people.
Last year alone there were 137,000 premature deaths in England as a result of a sedentary lifestyle.
Sir Steve is calling for more sports training for primary school teachers and more variety of activity to keep young people interested to bring down Gloucester’s rising obesity rate.
Currently, 26 per cent of children in the city are classed as obese, with 80 per cent of adults in Gloucester unaware of the link between obesity and heart disease.
Sir Steve said: “Inactivity in young people is a very difficult problem to solve.
“Sport in school should be more designed around being active. Young people are more likely to get involved in something they want to do.
“Competition in schools will always take care of itself, it is important to engage other children and teenage girls in particular.
“Top level sport is more focused than ever before in this country.
“But there are extremes and it is in the other side of the population not interested in sport that there are problems.
“Children need to be active from a younger age.
“Primary schools are so important and there is a big difference between schools and different parts of the country.
“In teacher training, primary school teachers get just two days training in how to teach sport.
“There are passionate primary school teachers teaching sport, but nowhere near enough.
“Teachers who are more involved in the arts, science or maths can feel uncomfortable teaching sport. That needs to change.
“Sport and activity needs to be more skills based, so when children go to secondary school they want to carry on.”
Sir Steve, who spoke about his experiences ski jumping in Channel Four show The Jump, also explained why he was patron of CRY.
A good friend and fellow rower collapsed at his home when he was a teenager. It later became clear he suffered from an undiagnosed heart condition.
The Citizen-backed Stop the Heartbreak screening sessions for 200 young people were made possible thanks to fundraising and donations, including £2,000 from the Gloucestershire Freemasons.
A full day of events at the Oxstalls Campus in Longlevens is taking place today (Wednesday) including a talk on drugs in sport from Sir Steve’s wife, Dr Ann Redgrave at 11am.
Eve Scarle, a senior lecturer in sport and physical activity at the University of Gloucestershire, was one of the first through the screening programme.
“The organisation of the event has taken almost a year. We booked it in May 2013 as there are so many other events taking place around the county, it has been difficult.
“It has been great to see it sold out and that 200 local young people will be screened.
“The screenings could potentially uncover any heart problems that could lead to significant health risk that can be preventable.
“My screening was a really quick procedure. I had an electrocardiogram to check the electrical activity of my heart. I didn’t feel anything, just had a few bits of sticky tape put on me.
“I had a quick chat with the doctor who checked the results, it is such a simple test to have done.
“There is a cost implication to consider. There is not a national screening programme like there is for flu. CRY would like everybody to be screened as part of a schools programme.
“It would prevent a large number of deaths each year, but there would be a huge financial cost and that isn’t practical.
“Twelve people die each week from a preventable heart condition. A national screening programme would help stop that from happening.
“ECGs pick up a large number of abnormalities, but would not pick up everything.
“It can detect an irregular heartbeat or a thickening of the muscle.
“Treatment can be minor, with medication or involve a minor surgical procedure.
“It would help some individuals from going into cardiac arrest.
“Some high profile cases have made people more aware, particularly with Fabrice Muamba.
“But people still think, 'that won't happen to me', but it can - even to healthy young people.
“Exercise is good for you, but if you have an underlying heart condition it can make it worse.
“It can happen to anybody, there have been some very sad cases in Gloucester. Ty Townsley went to bed and didn’t wake up.
“You just don’t know. It can be something they have been born with and has not been picked up.
“There is a chance these 200 screenings will pick up an abnormality. That will lead to further tests, such as an echo to look at the structure of the heart.
“The patient can then be referred to a specialist for a treadmill test or to the hospital’s cardiologist."