Children and exercise - the inactivity time bomb

Girls dancing Children tend to do even less exercise as they get older

Related Stories

The UK is facing an inactivity time bomb. Research suggests half of seven year olds don't get enough exercise. The outlook is even worse for girls. Whilst nearly two out of three boys do an hour's physical activity a day, for girls it is around one in three.

The results come from the biggest UK-wide scientific analysis of primary school children's activity. Many previous studies were based on survey results whereas this research, by University College London's Institute of Child Health, recorded the activity of 6,500 youngsters for a week.

Each wore an accelerometer - a gadget which measures both the duration and intensity of exercise. The observation that children are not getting enough exercise is hardly new. But this research, funded by the Wellcome Trust, gives perhaps the most accurate picture yet of the scale of the problem at primary school level.

It is especially concerning because children tend to do less exercise as they get older. If two-thirds of girls are not active enough at the age of seven, then that proportion will get even higher - unless action is taken.

So how do you motivate children to be active? Clearly school sports are vital. But parental input is crucial. Seven year olds today face more distractions, more incentives to be sedentary, than any previous generation. For many of them, the computer tablet, apps or smart phones are a part of daily life. Sadly, many regard playing outside as a dull alternative to using their thumbs to control a computer game.

From my experience there is limited value in telling them that they need to do exercise to be healthy - the concept of future heart, bone or weight problems cuts little ice with your average primary or secondary school child.

Two things are crucial. First is making physical activity routine - part of daily life. Walking to school is one obvious example. Parents who set an example and do exercise tend to have more active children. The second is finding a sport or activity which engages your child. Getting children more involved in sport was one of the legacy aims of the 2012 Olympics.

The Change4Life campaign is aimed at encouraging people of all ages to lead healthier, more active lives. Its motto, "Eat well, move more, live longer", pretty much sums up the aim of the campaign. It already has half a million members and is doing another recruitment drive linked to the start of the new school year.

Using apps and email messages it encourages children to take several small steps that will help lead to a permanent improvement in their health. This includes breaking down the perhaps daunting task of being active for at least 60 minutes into 10 minute chunks, plus suggestions for games which will tempt kids away from their screen.

From today's research such campaigns are vital if primary school children are to be motivated to lead an active life.

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

Defeating cancer, the 'evil genius'

Can we win the war against cancer? Over the past 18 months, Panorama has followed a group of patients on drug trials. Some who'd been given months to live, are keeping cancer at bay for years.

Read full article

More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    @125 My physics teacher said we would all need to live in sustainable communities and that was the way forward. He was right but it never happened.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    So not only are children getting "realistic" grades in their GCSEs (which is of course the schools' fault) they're also achieving less physically, which apparently is the schools' fault too.

    My physics lecturer in the 70s, when calculators became widespread, predicted that in the next stage of evolution brains would shrink as thumbs enlarged. Sadly he missed that obesity would increase too...

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    22nd August 2013 - 23:33

    Every home should have a large Hampster style treadmill!


    Good idea. Design as new iphone that can only be powered by one. Parents will have to join in too. Make a great family orientated activity. One rotation = 1 byte of information.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    my son was FAT 10 yr old i said son i don't like you sitting in exercising your thumbs go out with your mates getting dirty etc have adventurers.he did now hes 15... 6tt tall fights confident happy not fat a bit of trust if they get hurt put a plaster on it send em back out kids in my street play out school running around all the streets all skinny parents are to blame NOT TEACHERS

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Every home should have a large Hampster style treadmill!


Comments 5 of 126



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.