Rishi Sunak, Sir Keir Starmer and Sir Ed Davey have been asked to put physical activity at the heart of the school curriculum to start a lifetime of activity which could create a happier, healthier population.
An open letter to the party leaders from organisations including Parkrun, The Daily Mile and London Marathon Events said: “Our children are in a mental health crisis. We need to take action now.”
The letter, sent on World Mental Health Day, added: “We are calling on you, the leaders of our biggest political parties, to unlock the potential of sport and physical activity to play a more meaningful role in tackling the UK’s growing mental health epidemic.”
“A lifetime of activity, leading to a happier, healthier population needs to start and be embedded throughout our school years.
“This is the first and most important step to improving the health and wellbeing of the nation.”
The letter, which was also signed by Run 4 Wales, Sport and Recreation Alliance, The Great Run Company and Youth Sport Trust, said: “All of us involved in sport and physical activity, from grassroots community clubs to the UK’s biggest mass participation running events, have seen the profound and positive effect physical activity can have on mental health and wellbeing in children and adults.
“Research shows children experience increased feelings of happiness, improvements in self-esteem and feel calmer after taking part in The Daily Mile.
“Meanwhile, data released by the government earlier this year showed the number of hours young people spend doing physical education and sport in secondary schools in England has fallen by more than 12% since the 2012 London Olympics.
“As a country, our long term health and wellbeing strategy needs to prioritise prevention.”
The organisations which signed the letter said they are “ready to help” but calls on the current and future governments to “demonstrate boldness”.
“We work to deliver solutions, facilitating activity outreach programmes in schools and communities, rolling out junior and adult parkruns across the nation, staging world-leading events that inspire people of all ages and abilities to get active and improve their mental and physical health and generating £85bn every year in economic, social and health uplift.
“But we could do so much more. According to recent data from the Sport and Recreation Alliance, we currently rank a low joint 11th out of 15 neighbouring European nations in activity levels, which means missing out on a potential £71 billion wellbeing uplift.
“Government – both now and in the future – must therefore demonstrate boldness and bravery and commit to maximising the transformative power of our sector.”
The letter which calls for “new policies that embrace the potential of being physically active to change lives” adds: “We need to get our adults moving. We need to get our children moving.”
Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Munira Wilson said: “Mental health must be treated with the same importance as physical health.
“We know that exercise is key to achieving this and that means children must have every opportunity in school to participate in high-quality PE lessons that put children’s mental and physical health first.
“The government has promised greater support for PE, yet the delivery has been completely lacking.
“We need to see the support our children deserve making it to our schools and being rolled out immediately.”