Youth Sport Trust adds that parents underestimate how long children should be active each day, insisting that more play and sport is needed in children’s lives
Children’s physical activity had returned to pre-pandemic levels by last summer, with 41% of children meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines of an average of an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.
However, many UK children were still inactive and more sedentary during the week, spending, on average, an extra 13 minutes being inactive daily, according to the University of Bristol research.
“It’s encouraging that on average children’s physical activity levels are back to where they were before the pandemic,” said lead author Russ Jago, Professor of Physical Activity and Public Health, University of Bristol. “But …children’s increased sedentary time during the week has persisted, which is an area of concern for policymakers, schools, and parents.”
Researchers measured the physical activity levels of 393 children aged 10 to 11 years old between June and December 2021, and a further 436 children of the same age between January and July 2022. Data came from 28 schools in the Bristol area and was compared with figures from nearly 1,300 children in the same area before the pandemic.
The activity of a parent or carer was also measured; parents, on average, undertook eight minutes more moderate to vigorous physical activity at weekends than before the pandemic.
“The findings suggest physical activity is susceptible to disruptions in provision and leisure opportunities, and highlight that still not enough 10 to 11-year-olds meet the guidelines,” said co-author Dr Ruth Salway, Senior Research Associate in Epidemiology and Statistics, University of Bristol. “On the flipside, it’s great to see how the pandemic may have encouraged parents to be more active and it looks like these habits may be continuing.”
“There’s more to do to help children and young people from all backgrounds enjoy the benefits of sport and physical activity…we have a long way to go still to change the overall level to where it needs to be.”
The research corroborates findings from Sport England which found 47% of children met the Chief Medical Officer's guidelines. The survey, which covered the 2021-22 academic year, found activity levels were back in line with 2018-2019, the last full year before the pandemic, and that 219,000 children were more active compared to the previous year.
“It is encouraging to see that activity levels for children and young people have recovered to pre-pandemic levels,” said Tim Hollingsworth, Chief Executive, Sport England. “This overall growth is positive but there’s more to do to help children and young people from all backgrounds enjoy the benefits of sport and physical activity…we have a long way to go still to change the overall level to where it needs to be.”
However, research commissioned this year by Youth Sport Trust revealed parents underestimate how long children should be active each day, with many believing just 30 minutes of exercise a day is enough.
“We know children are leading increasingly sedentary lives,” said Alison Oliver, CEO, Youth Sport Trust. “Screen time is up, and time spent in nature is down. Children’s formative years can influence their wellbeing, development, education outcomes and physical activity levels well into adulthood. There is a compelling evidence base for more play and sport in children’s lives.”
Image credit: Shutterstock