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Children’s activity levels are on the rise, according to the second Sport England’s ‘Active Lives Survey’.

This latest report, based on 130,000 children aged 5-16 in England during the academic year 2018/19, provides insight into participation figures and attitudes towards activity within this group.

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12th December 2019

The Sport England survey is the largest study of its kind and gives the most comprehensive overview of the sport and physical activity habits of children in England. The survey recorded a wide range of activities children take part in, including all sport and physical activities at moderate intensity, both at school and out of school. 

So what are the key findings?

Figures show an increase of 3.6% in the number of children doing an average of 60 minutes or more of physical activity a day.

46.8% of the nation’s children and young people are meeting the recommended level of activity, with the increase driven by more out of school activity – including increases in active play, team sports and walking. While another 1.7 million (24.2%) children are ‘fairly active’ – taking part in average of 30-59 minutes a day.

Government guidelines recommend that children and young people should get 30 minutes of their daily physical activity in the school day and 30 minutes outside of school. The figures show that 57.2% (up 4.6%) of children are doing 30 minutes or more of physical activity outside of school, compared to 40.4% at school.

The survey also shows that active children are happier, more resilient and more trusting of others. It also shows a positive association between being active and higher levels of mental wellbeing, individual development and community development.

However, it is not all good news.

There are still 2.1 million children and young people (29.0%) doing fewer than 30 minutes of physical activity a day a stark reminder of how much more needs to be done to engage these children in a more active lifestyle.

Inequalities presented during the previous report remain. 54% of children from the most affluent families considered active compared to 42% from the least affluent families.

And while there have been increases in both boys' and girls' activity levels, boys are more likely to be active then girls with a gap of 319,200 between the numbers of boys who achieve the recommended amount of sport and physical activity (51% or 1.8m) and the number of girls that do (43% or 1.5m).  In fact from the age of five up, boys are more active than girls at every age.

Asian and Black children are most likely to do less than an average of 30 minutes activity a day. 

Age also plays a part. How positively children and young people feel about sport and physical activity generally declines with age. 

Activity levels peak when children are aged 5-7, and again at the end of primary school (age 11-12). Children are more likely to be active at these points than at any other time during their primary or secondary education. Children and young people aged 13-16 (Years 9-11) are the least likely to be active. 

At school, increases have been seen for Years 3-6 (ages 7-11) - however, secondary school-age young people have seen no change and the youngest children (Years 1-2) have seen a decrease. This is seen across boys and girls. 

Active play and informal activities remain the most common way for children in younger age groups (Years 1-6) to be active. While team sports become more common as children get older. By secondary school age, team sports are the most common group of activities.  

Attitudes to sport and activity

The first Active Lives Children and Young People survey showed that enjoyment above all other elements of physical literacy is the biggest driver of children’s activity levels. 

The new survey shows that girls are less likely to enjoy being active than boys, with the biggest gap between the genders found around confidence and enjoyment. 

More physically literate children are more likely to be active. Physically literate children are happier, more resilient and more trusting of others.

Finding gender neutral activities that children truly enjoy is key to driving more physical activity in both boys and girls.

Enjoying the activity is key to retaining positive attitudes to sport and physical activity as children get older too.

The positive link between being physically active and children feeling happier and more resilient is critical. Good mental health, as well as physical health are vital.

Using break/ playtimes as well as PE lessons to encourage more physical activity should help achieve the Government’s target of 30 minutes exercise every day in school. Having the opportunity to try activities that are fun during these times is the key!

Read the full report here

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