“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

“Is there a Santa Claus?”

But how? But where? But really? Children have questioned the existence of Santa Claus for centuries. In 1897, Virginia O’Hanlon (8 years old) wrote a letter to The (New York) Sun as her ”little friends” had told her the unimaginable – Santa clause was not real. ”Please tell me the truth,” Virginia wrote ”Is there a Santa Claus?” to which she received the iconic response, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Francis Churches’ response famously continued “Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.” The most valuable present for children this Christmas will not be wrapped and it won’t even need batteries. Children are hardwired to learn by imitation (Jones, 2009). Family can be the seedbed for a physically active life (Eyler et al., 1999; Ferreira et al., 2007). People may assume Children are naturally energetic and require little encouragement.  But in fact British research proves that the activity levels of parents may have a direct influence on how active – or not – their children are (Hesketh et al., 2014). The National Guidelines on Physical Activity for Ireland suggest all children (2-18 years) should be active at a moderate to vigorous level for at least 60 minutes every day. The Health Behaviours in School Children (HBSC, 2006) survey exposed that more than half of primary school children did not achieve the recommended level of physical activity. By 15 years of age, almost nine out of 10 girls and seven out of 10 boys don’t achieve the suggested level. Obesity is one of the foremost public health concerns in Ireland (Department of Health and Children, 2005) as currently; one in four Irish children are overweight or obese. Childhood obesity can influence not only current health, but health in later life as well, and is a risk factor for musculoskeletal problems, joint problems, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes mellitus (Keane et al., 2014). The less active children are, the greater the risk of them being overweight.  Children of active parents are less likely to be overweight and obese (Erkelenz et al., 2014). But Childhood obesity is not only influenced by parent modelling, it is affected by multiple factors, including genetics, lifestyle and the surrounding environment (de Vet et al., 2011).

Standing biased desks increase the activity levels of sedentary children
Standing biased desks increase the activity levels of sedentary children

Like the family home, schools are the ideal sites to increase the physical activity of children. Child obesity prevention studies suggest that including specific regular physical exercise sessions in the school day were among the most promising strategies used in avoiding weight gain (Waters et al., 2011). Shifting teacher behaviour towards using physically active schooling approaches may increase the physical activity of students, with massive implications for the wellbeing of children presently and into the future (Martin & Murtagh, 2015). Stand biased desks used in schools may be a simple intervention that allow students to sit or stand during lecture. These allow children to increase physical activity and caloric expenditure, as well as relieve musculoskeletal stress caused by more traditional desks. The students using stand-biased desks burned 15 percent more calories during the study period than students at seated desks, and obese children at standing desks increased their calorie usage by 25 percent (Blake et al., 2012; Benden et al., 2014)

Not only do family and schools influence activity levels, where we live affects how we live. Expensive gym memberships, a lack of available and accessible green spaces and “dangerous” parks are barriers,  and can get in the way of turning free time into active time (Mytton et al., 2012). Our surrounding environment, policy decisions, parental modelling and societal influences have incredible influences on the activity levels of children and adults.

Virginia went on to qualify as a teacher and began a 47-year career as an educator in 1912. She worked with children all her life. She wrote another letter about Santa Claus.
Her second letter was published on the 40th anniversary of the publication of Church’s editorial and finished by saying.

Dear children of yesterday, won’t you try to seek out these trusting children of today and make sure that their letters in some way may reach Santa Claus so that ‘he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood’? That, I believe, is the best way of proving there is a Santa Claus, for ourselves and for the children.”

Likewise, perhaps the “children of yesterday” can  find a way to create and promote an activity-friendly environment which can mend  this obesity epidemic and transform the  lives of children.







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