Lack of child exercise highlighted
Wednesday 21st August 2013, 11:40PM BST.
Half of all seven-year-olds do not get enough exercise – and girls are far less active than boys, research shows.
Only 51% of all seven-year-olds in the UK achieve the recommended hour of exercise every day, with the figure being just 38% in girls compared with 63% in boys.
Half of this age group is also sedentary for an average of 6.4 hours or more every day, experts found.
The research, published in the online journal BMJ Open, found that children of Indian origin and those living in Northern Ireland are among the least physically active of all seven-year-olds.
Experts including from the University College London’s Institute of Child Health examined data for 6,497 children.
The youngsters wore an accelerometer to measure exercise levels which was attached to an elastic belt round their waist. It was only removed when bathing or when the children went to bed.
In total, the experts were able to record 36,309 days of data based on the children wearing the accelerometer for at least 10 hours a day over the course of a week.
The analysis showed that on average, across the entire sample, children managed the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, and that they took an average of 10,299 steps.
But half the children were sedentary for six or more hours every day, and half did not reach the daily recommended exercise target.
Girls were more sedentary and less active than boys while only one in three (33%) children of Bangladeshi origin met the recommended daily exercise minimum.
Among the four UK countries, children in Northern Ireland were the least active, with just 43% managing the recommended 60 minutes, while children in Scotland were most likely (52.5%) to achieve the target.
Around 52% of all children in England managed the 60 minutes but there were regional differences. Those living in the North West were the most likely (58%) to hit the target, and those in the Midlands the least likely to do so (46%).
The researchers said more needs to be done to boost the amount of exercise children are doing, including promoting walking or cycling to school.
They said: “L ast year the London 2012 Olympic Games promised to inspire a generation to take part in sport. The UK sporting success in August 2012 provided a platform for the Government’s plans for an Olympic and Paralympic sporting legacy, to encourage and enable pupils to engage in competitive sports and activities.
“The results of our study provide a useful baseline and strongly suggest that contemporary UK children are insufﬁciently active, implying that effort is needed to boost physical activity among young people to the level appropriate for good health.”
In an accompanying podcast, senior author Professor Carol Dezateux, from the Institute of Child Health, said the gender differences in exercise levels are “striking”.
She called for policies to promote more exercise among girls, including dancing, playground activities and ball games.
Thembi Nkala, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: “Encouraging children to be physically active is vital for their mental and physical well-being and will also reduce their risk of getting coronary heart disease in the future.
“However, this study shows us that far too many children are not nearly as active as they should be.
“If we want the next generation to grow up fit and healthy, we all need to do more to encourage children to be more active by providing a variety of fun and enjoyable activities that appeal to all groups.”
Professor Mitch Blair, officer for health promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “It concerns me that half of all UK seven-year-olds are sedentary for six to seven hours every day and are failing to undertake the recommended daily minimum level of physical activity, at an age at which children should be moving around a lot more and enjoying active play instead of being glued to screens.
“We know obesity isn’t going to go away overnight, but there are vital steps we need to be taking now to instil positive attitudes and behaviours so future generations lead healthier lifestyles, and as a result, lower the risk of developing serious obesity related health conditions.”
A Department of Health spokesman said:”We want children to exercise more which is why the Government is building on our Olympic and Paralympic legacy and investing £1 billion in community sport.
“We have committed to giving primary schools £300 million of ring-fenced funding to improve PE and sport, and help all pupils to develop healthy, active lifestyles, and have invested a further £3 million to extend Change4Life School Sports Clubs to areas with the highest childhood obesity.”