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Fears over child activity levels

Get children walking or scooting to school, say doctors

Mark Gould

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Half of all UK seven-year-olds do not do enough exercise, with girls far less active than boys, and levels of activity varying with ethnic background and geography, a study suggests.

The University College London researchers, writing in the online journal BMJ Open, 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.

While concerns that children are not active enough is not new, most previous studies have relied on self-reporting by children or parents estimating levels of exercise. However the latest work involved real-time monitoring with the youngsters being studied wearing accelerometers attached to a belt around their waists to measure their exercise levels. It was removed only when bathing or when the children went to bed.

The researchers 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.

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. They also 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.

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.

Professor 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. She said teachers might consider the school playground is an important starting point and is often dominated by boys playing football and may need to be sectioned off so that girls have their own play areas.”

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."

Dr Ann Hoskins, of Public Health England, 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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