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.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

    £64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

    Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam