A lack of well-trained primary PE teachers is to blame for the current level of childhood obesity, say academics at a teacher training college.
Roehampton University is setting up a specialist department within its education faculty to train primary teachers to teach physical education. The aim of the new Child Wellbeing Institute will be to encourage children to take an interest in sport at an early age.
The Association for Physical Education estimates that 40 per cent of newly qualified primary teachers have been given only a few hours' training in how to teach PE.
Richard Bailey, professor of pedagogy at Roehampton, said pupils who learn to exercise properly while at primary are more likely to be physically active throughout their lives. The aim is that newly trained teachers will help to fight the battle against childhood obesity.
He said: "The reduction in the number of children walking and cycling to school or allowed to play in the streets means that, for many, school presents the only regular opportunity for physical activity.
"These children are at a crucial phase in their development, but are being taught by teachers lacking the necessary subject expertise. We want to change the way we think about the primary curriculum to accurately reflect the importance our society places on keeping children fit and healthy."
The institute, which will open in 2008, will provide training in child development and health. It will also help teachers to encourage well-being throughout the community.
Margaret Talbot, chief executive of the AfPE, said: "There's no quick fix for obesity. But the outcome of high quality PE lessons is physical literacy. It is not just about physical tricks. It is about understanding the context in which you're working and it's as demanding and as important as literacy in language."
But David Tuck, head of Dallow Primary in Luton, Bedfordshire, is not sure the new training is necessary. At his school a sports development officer is employed to oversee PE. Other primaries work with teachers from local sports colleges.
"Traditional teacher training already allows an element of specialisation," he said. "I think most primaries provide adequate PE. I just don't see it as a huge problem."