Children need more exercise - especially girls, study says


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Half of all UK seven-year-olds do not do enough exercise, with girls far less active than boys, a study suggests.

University College London researchers found just 51% of the 6,500 children they monitored achieved the recommended hour of physical activity each day.

For girls, the figure was just 38%, compared with 63% for boys.

Half of the group also spent more than six hours being sedentary each day, although some of this would be spent in class, the researchers acknowledged.

The study, published in the online journal BMJ Open, found levels of activity varied among groups.

For example, children of Indian origin and those living in Northern Ireland were among the least physically active with 43% achieving the recommended levels, compared to 53% in Scotland.


But the most marked difference was between girls and boys.

Researchers said this suggested there needed to be a focus on making sport and other activities more attractive to girls.

Report author Professor Carol Dezateux: "You need to get moving early... to stay active"

Prof Carol Dezateux, one of the lead authors, said: "There is a big yawning gap between girls and boys. We need to really think about how we are reaching out to girls.

"The school playground is an important starting point. Often you will find it dominated by boys playing football."

But she said there should still be concern about the activity levels across the board.

"The findings are particularly worrying because seven-year-olds are likely to become less active as they get older, not more."

To achieve the one hour recommendation children have to take part in moderate or vigorous activity, which includes everything from brisk walking and cycling to playing football and running.

The UCL research is not the first to suggest children are not active enough, but most previous studies have relied on self-reporting by children or parents estimating levels of exercise, whereas the latest one involved real-time monitoring.

During the study, which took place during 2008 and 2009, youngsters wore an accelerometer to measure exercise levels which was attached to an elastic belt around their waist. It was removed only when bathing or when the children went to bed.

In total, the experts were able to record more than 36,000 days of data based on the children wearing the accelerometer for at least 10 hours a day over the course of a week.

Dr John Middleton, of the Faculty of Public Health, said more research was needed into why certain groups were less active.

"We need our children to grow up to be fit and healthy adults, not just because it's what any civilised society would want for its children, but it's also best for our economy too," he added.

Dr Ann Hoskins, of Public Health England, agreed.

She said: "This study highlights that there is still much to do to keep children and young people active as they grow older, especially girls.

"The new school year is the perfect time to make healthy changes, swapping short car or bus journeys with walking or scooting to school."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 604.

    im a child of the 80s. back then we climbed trees, went hiking up the quarry, swimming in the lakes. always out running around.
    kids these days go out, sit on a bench/wall and play on their phones.
    drives me always taking my daughter out doing all the things i used to do. asked her a few times why she dont do things like it with her friends. always get the same answer. they cant be botherd

  • rate this

    Comment number 603.

    I'm sure there'll be some regional variations caused by lack of sporting and play facilities but surely it would have been more appropriate to link the lack of exercise to the low intelligence of some parents?

    Most of the fat children I see and know have parents you would describe as being a bit thick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 602.

    When I was a child, Mom was home, Dad was at work. We ate 'homemade' meals..we helped at home doing chores and were 'free' to be outside with friends playing. Today is the opposite. Many parents paranoid that the park is full of recently released pedophiles. I don't blame them...thats most of our news these days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 601.

    just a point about weight. at school i had an hour of PE and 2 hours of games each week. until i became disabled i walked everywhere and i have always been overweight. But my cholesterol is normal my blood pressure is normal and i have a resting pulse 68-72.

  • Comment number 600.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 599.

    Doctors should tell people they are fat rather than obese, health minister Anne Milton said today
    She said the term fat was more likely to motivate people into losing weight, adding it was important people took ‘personal responsibility’ for their lifestyles
    if the nhs is telling people to call people fat - i'm not sure the bbcmods should be removing posts that agree that with government policy

  • rate this

    Comment number 598.

    "Wasn't there a recent study that concluded 90's and 00's kids do about the same amount of exercise as 50's and 60's kids?"

    Probably. But if it's one of the BBC's "recent studies" don't expect it to have any substance, or any real relevance that could result in a meaningful solution. See above for example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 597.

    Bankers arent just for Christmas

    People put on weight if they eat more than they burn. Some people find it harder to get the balance right. It may be genes, upbringing, pressure of work, disability or laziness or any combination of these factors. Are you really sure that if you're life was different you wouldn't be fat? I'm not. Don't judge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 596.

    455.The Ships Cat
    "As a Kid I was taught to hate exerciseand sport. I find it impossible to run distances because I cannot breathe properly. Teachers are totaly incapable of teaching sport in virtually all schools "

    I never really rated PE at school as I was no big fan of child abuse. However, not all sports require breathing. Have you thought of trying golf?

  • rate this

    Comment number 595.

    Come on meteor!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 594.

    Bankers@ 591 - it's you and the large number of other entitled types who are acting like the 'fat police' on here. I couldn't care less whether someone is fat or thin. I have my own life to live. Try it? Your example implies that those who have 'control' over their appearance warrant abuse. My wife's ancestors were all big, well before TV and McDonald's. Like it or not there IS a genetic element.

  • rate this

    Comment number 593.

    Kids are not allowed out so how are they going to get exercise. when i was young we were allowed to roam around and play but now parents are so afraid of stranger danger they won't let their kids out to play. I was in more danger back then than kids are now. Its the media has created a climate of fear where with crime actually falling everybody thinks its going up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 592.

    Surely the challenge is to look at why there are successfully exercising girls rather than pitching this against what boys are doing.

  • Comment number 591.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 590.

    If people don't take responsibility to take care of their own well being then let them just don't go crying to an already stretched NHS because you've got problems as a result of ill care. (Not saying that's every problem/person but a lot can be brought on by not looking after yourself)

    It's survival of the FITTEST after all!

  • rate this

    Comment number 589.

    All government "initiatives" cost cash. Parents' "activities" for their kids cost too, so there's nothing that has universal effect.

    Except one thing...

    The Dutch cycle infrastructure has actually cost less than the resultant Dutch NHS savings, so this really could be the long term UK solution.

    And money saved by not doing the "school run" could be used to buy better quality, healthier food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 588.

    "We walked to school when i was at school, ... i walked with a friend , we had PE , sports days , rounders, swimming, bagminton, etc we had a 2 hour PE lesson, and like i said i walked to school ... , It simply is a case if you can walk somewhere do so too many parents run children to school...i seen it"

    Not much room for English in that busy curriculum then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 587.

    why don't you... why don't you... just switch off your computer and go out and do something less boring instead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 586.

    It doesn't help when government are destroying local parks open spaces and woodland. I was lucky to live near the sea when I was a kid. I spent hours on the beach swimming and walking rock pools etc. I returned to the UK a year ago I was so sad to see that some of the local parks/woods had been turned into nothing more than concrete covering the green spaces I used to play in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 585.

    It's the fact that young children of today need to be healthy and for that they should participate in pretty good exercise daily right from kinder-garden and school ages to groom up themselves fit moderately so that when they grown up as healthy adults they can have themselves adjusted in any professional filed like army, navy air-force, police or whatever nature of work that may be.


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