What Olympic effect: primary schoolchildren are falling behind on exercise

Half of all seven-year-olds are too inactive to be healthy, with girls doing significantly less than boys

Half of all seven-year-olds in the UK are not exercising enough to stay healthy – remaining inactive for between six and seven hours every day, a major study has revealed.

The researchers, who surveyed 7,000 children between May 2008 and August 2009, also found a “striking” gender gap, with girls far less active than boys. Only four in 10 girls achieved minimum recommended activity levels of an hour or more a day, compared with 63 per cent of boys.

The findings, in research published in the BMJ Open journal, come a day after official figures showed the Olympic legacy may have had a negligible impact on the activity levels of young children.

Despite hopes that the Olympic and Paralympic Games would “inspire a generation” to take up sport, a survey of 2,000 children by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport found that just under half of five- to 10-year-olds had not been encouraged to take up a sport because of the Olympics and, of those who did, only around a third said they had been encouraged “a lot”.

Professor Carol Dezateux, of the University College London Institute of Child Health, a senior author of the BMJ study, said that the gender differences in exercise levels were “striking” and called for policies to promote more exercise among girls, including dancing, playground activities, and ball games.

“The results of our study… 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,” the authors of the study write.

Population-wide interventions would be needed, they said, including policies to make it easier for children to walk to school, in a bid to increase physical activity.

“Investing in this area is a vital component to deliver the Olympic legacy and improve the short- and long-term health of our children,” they added.

Researchers measured children’s activity rates by equipping them with accelerometers for an entire week, which were taken off only when the children went to bed or bathed.

Regional differences were also highlighted by the researchers. Well over half of seven-year-olds in Northern Ireland exercised for less than an hour a day, with 52 per cent of children in Scotland hitting the target.

Children living in the North-west of England were the most likely to exercise more, with 58 per cent doing an hour a day, while the most sedentary region was the Midlands, where only 46 per cent of seven-year-olds hit daily recommended exercise levels.

A third of children in the UK aged between two and 15 are overweight and between 14 and 20 per cent are believed to be obese. By 2030, research suggests, half the adult population of the UK could be obese.

Health experts warn that such high levels of obesity represent a “time bomb” for the NHS, with the inevitable rise in weight-associated conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke set to rise dramatically. A government report published this week predicted that three in four adults could have a weight-related illness within two decades.

Diabetes and associated conditions already account for one pound in every 10 the NHS spends.

Professor Paul Gately, an expert in physical health and nutrition and the founder of the weight-management programme MoreLife, said that the school system was geared towards sports for children, but not towards encouraging children who might not be good at sport to stay active.

“We don’t have a school system that promotes a greater level of physical activity. We encourage sporty kids, but not necessarily active kids,” he said.

“There is a relationship between obesity and deprivation; it’s not that clear-cut, but if you live in a densely populated area it makes you more likely to be obese, because it’s not safe to play out, and you don’t walk to school,” he said. “Children with lower levels of learning also have higher levels of obesity; children with traumatic experiences are more likely to be obese. It… goes beyond the common picture of more children staying indoors and playing computer games.”

John Steele, the chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust, said the findings were “concerning”.

“If young people enjoy taking part in physical activity early on they will go on to lead active, healthy lifestyles, but if they have a bad experience, particularly at school, they could be put off for life,” he said.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

    £37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

    Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

    £25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

    Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

    £16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea