Children’s activity levels

The England men’s football team fell short of cementing their place in history by lifting the World Cup, but millions of us came together to watch their progress, and the consensus seems to be that they gave a good account of themselves, with the promise of more to come – perhaps in the Euro 2024 tournament. The England women’s football team did manage to go all the way this summer, of course, winning the Euro 2022 tournament in front of a capacity crowd at Wembley Stadium and more than 17 million viewers. In recent blogs we have discussed the need to build on such potentially game-changing moments to promote not just football but participation in sport and physical activity in general. It needs to happen. We learned just last week that children and young people’s activity levels have more or less recovered to pre-pandemic levels but that, in the words of Sport England, there is much still to do.

Sport England’s annual survey of children’s activity levels found that 47% of children are now meeting the UK chief medical officers’ guidelines of taking part in an average of 60 minutes or more of sport and physical activity a day. The downside of that statistic, of course, is that a majority of children and young people are not meeting the guidelines.

Nevertheless, we seem at least to be again moving in the right direction, however slowly. Overall activity levels are up 2.6% compared to the previous academic year, and activity levels are now back in line with the 2018–2019 academic year, the last full year before the pandemic.

Sport England described the newly published figures as “an encouraging step in the right direction but also a reminder there is much more to do so that as many children as possible feel the benefits of being active.”

The survey groups respondents into one of four categories:

  • Active – an average of 60 minutes or more a day
  • Fairly active – 30 to 59 minutes
  • Less active – less than 30 minutes a day
  • Inactive – no activity at all

One encouraging finding is that secondary-aged girls are now more active than at any point since the survey began in 2017–18. In particular, many more girls are playing football compared with five years ago – and this survey was done before this year’s Euro triumph, which surely augurs well for next year’s findings.

However, the figures also indicate several causes for concern. For example, despite the encouraging figures cited in the above paragraph, there is still a gender imbalance: boys have largely driven the recovery in activity levels (50% of boys compared with 45% of girls).

Affluence also impacts on activity levels. Those from low-affluence families are still less likely to be active than those from high-affluence families, and children and young people in the most deprived places in the country have not seen activity levels recover to what they were before the Covid pandemic.

The Active Lives Children and Young People Survey, which covers the 2021–22 academic year, is based on responses from more than 100,000 children aged five to sixteen. Much of the statistical information used in this blog comes from Sport England’s summary of the survey.

As well as highlighting initiatives that it has been involved in, Sport England makes a point of praising the work of schools in increasing activity levels:

While there are rises in both the numbers getting active outside school hours and during school hours, the in-school rise of 2.2% or just under 190,000 more children and young people taking part in an average of 30 minutes or more sport and physical activity a day, shows how hard schools worked to get sport and activity back in a safe and positive way after Covid-19.

Quoted from the Active Together website

In our blog The importance of legacy we asked how serious we are about legacy. “How do we ensure that all the fine words don’t turn into empty promises, forgotten about or quietly shelved when difficult choices have to be made?”

In our blog Building on the success of the Lionesses we pointed out that “legacies don’t just take care of themselves; even golden legacies can be squandered. Progress has been made around girls’ participation in sport but there remains much to be done, particularly for teenage girls. The Lionesses’ triumph at Euro 2022 has created momentum. Now we need to push on.”

Image at the head of this article by Josh Dick from Pixabay.

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