Walk past any school playground or park and you might think that our children look pretty active, but are they?
Findings from the Millennium Cohort Study published today show that only half of 7-year-olds across the UK achieve the current recommendation for physical activity (60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day).
This is the first time that a UK wide survey has used an objective measurement of activity (using accelerometers with 6,000 children) and as such is an important piece of new research.
The good news is that children in Scotland are the most active in the UK. 52.5% of children in Scotland met the recommended level, compared 51.7% in Wales, 50.9% in England and 43.4% in Northern Ireland.
The bad news is that the difference in activity levels between boys and girls (at UK level) is worryingly high. Just 37.8% of girls met the recommended level of physical activity, compared with 63.3% of boys. Clearly, gender differences in physical activity start young, but continue into adolescence and adulthood.
Findings from the Growing Up in Scotland study (GUS) highlight the factors associated with low activity levels and high levels of ‘screen time’ amongst six year olds. A report published last year found that the factors associated with low physical activity are: mother’s lower physical activity, a less warm mother-child relationship, mothers not being aware of the 60 minutes per day recommendation and not having a swimming pool nearby.
The factors associated with high ‘screen time’ are: mother’s high screen time, a TV in the child’s bedroom, fewer mother and child shared activities, fewer rules about behaviour, greater social deprivation and poor quality local green spaces.
The MCS researchers suggest that a comprehensive policy response is required to increase the time that children spend in more intense physical activity and to reduce the time spent being sedentary. This should include a focus on parents’ modelling of behaviour, as well as making sure that all children have safe places to play outside.