Children as young as three are leading a couch-potato lifestyle that is putting their future health at risk.

Children as young as three are leading a couch-potato lifestyle that is putting their future health at risk.

The widespread belief that young children are spontaneously active is dismissed by a study showing they lead overwhelmingly sedentary lives which threaten an obesity epidemic. Researchers in Scotland, who studied a group of 78 three-year-olds, found they spent only 2 per cent of their time in moderate to vigorous physical activity and their total energy expenditure was an average of 200 calories a day less than needed.

The early pattern of a lazy lifestyle persisted two years later, at the age of five, when the children were spending 4 per cent of their time in moderate or vigorous physical activity. Overall, they spent an average of 20 to 25 minutes a day being physically active, compared with the recommended minimum of 60 minutes.

The declining level of physical activity among children, which has been noted for years, is caused by fewer children playing sport and parents' fears about security, which have kept children indoors. Fewer children walk or cycle to school than in past generations and more are driven to school.

The new study is the first to provide objective evidence of the low levels of activity in young children and suggests the seeds of an inactive lifestyle are sown in the first years of life. The researchers, who publish their findings in The Lancet, conclude: "Modern British children establish a sedentary lifestyle at an early age."

James Hill of the Centre for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Centre in Denver, said it had important implications for Britain. He wrote: "With this revelation they [the researchers] essentially forecast an epidemic of obesity in the United Kingdom to rival that already under way in the USA."

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