Four out of five United Kingdom children not active enough, global report suggests

Henrietta Brewer
November 24, 2019

These include 85 per cent of girls and 78 per cent of boys.

The findings are based on a survey of 1.6 million youths from 146 countries carried out between 2001-2016 for the first-ever global study of adolescent physical activity prepared by the World Health Organization and published in the journal Lancet on Friday.

WHO recommends to governments across the world to adopt policies that would increase all forms of physical activity, including though physical education that develops physical literacy, more sports, active play and recreation opportunities. The study says that these activities will have significant effects on improving cardiovascular and muscular fitness, bone and cardiometabolic health and weight. There is growing evidence that it helps cognitive development, as well as social and motor skills "This is not the good start in life that we would want for our children and adolescents", said Bull.

Many of these benefits continue into adulthood, research suggests.

They also flagged that as it included information from school-going 11 to 17-year-olds only, due to lack of data for out-of-school adolescents which may skew the results for some developing countries.


However, among girls, changes were small, ranging from a two percentage-point decrease in Singapore (85 per cent to 83 per cent) to a one percentage-point increase in Afghanistan (87 per cent to 88 per cent).

The authors noted that the lower levels of insufficient physical activity in Bangladesh and India (where 63 per cent and 72 per cent of boys were insufficiently active in 2016, respectively) may be explained by the strong focus on national sports like cricket.

Researchers saw a slight improvement among boys over the study period, with 78 percent reporting insufficient physical activity in 2016 - down from 80 percent in 2001.

While India and Bangladesh see a strong focus on sports like cricket, in the US, physical education in schools, extensive media coverage of games and good availability of sports clubs have motivated youths to indulge in more physical activity.

The survey also shows boys are gradually increasing their physical activity in Bangladesh, India and the U.S.


In a bid to encourage healthier living, countries have set a target of reducing physical inactivity among adults and youth alike by 15 percent between 2018 and 2030.

The situation is a lot worse for girls, who get much less exercise than boys, leading to calls for urgent policy intervention.

When examining by region, high-income Asia Pacific countries reported the highest prevalence on insufficient inactivity in 2016 for boys (89.0%, 62.8-92.2) and girls (95.6%, 73.7-97.9).

"Comprehensive action requires engagement with multiple sectors and stakeholders, including schools, families, sport and recreation providers, urban planners, and city and community leaders", Dr Bull added.


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