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COVID-19: majority of children now fail to meet recommended exercise levels

By Tom Walker    14 Jan 2021
A third of children did less than an average of 30 minutes of exercise a day during 2020 / Shutterstock.com/Corepics VOF
The figures clearly demonstrate how important it will be to open facilities and encourage the return as soon as it’s safe to do so
– Tim Hollingsworth

Less than half (44.9 per cent) of children and young people in England met the recommended levels for exercise (60 minutes or more a day) during 2020.

The devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on physical activity levels among children has been revealed in the latest Active Lives Children and Young People Survey, published by Sport England today (14 January).

Perhaps even more worryingly, 31 per cent (a total of 2.3m children) did less than an average of 30 minutes a day – representing an increase of 2.4 per cent (or 201,400 children) in the proportion of those least active.

The importance of having schools, gyms and leisure centres open was highlighted in the report, as the survey showed that activity levels were increasing during the 2019 autumn term – when schools and fitness facilities were open.  

Not surprisingly, sporting activities – including team sports and swimming – were hardest hit, down 16 per cent with just over 1 million fewer children and young people taking part.

The biggest gains were found in activities which could be undertaken despite closures – such as walking, cycling and at-home fitness.   

Sport England CEO Tim Hollingsworth said: "We know the pandemic has had a huge impact on children and young people’s engagement in sport and physical activity.

"The figures clearly demonstrate how important it will be to open facilities and encourage the return to play as soon as it’s safe to do so.  

"While we are pleased to see the increase in more informal activities such as walking and cycling, which were possible during the periods of restriction, we can’t underestimate the long-term effect on other sporting activities both in and out of school  

"Developing children and young people’s physical literacy is essential in creating a positive and lifelong relationship with activity and without it many will not enjoy the health and social benefits associated with living active lives. "

Responding to the report, Jack Shakespeare, director of children, young people, families and research at industry body, ukactive, said: “The current national lockdown measures will further impact the physical and mental wellbeing of children and young people, with the cold weather and darker evenings at this time of year making physical activity targets even harder to achieve than before.

“Sport and physical activity in school and community settings provides invaluable opportunities for children to develop physically, socially and emotionally, and in many cases, forms respite services and a vital safety net for the most vulnerable.

“This is why ukactive is urging the Government to formulate and execute an ambitious plan to get children moving again – one that supports children during lockdown and school closures, prioritises the re-opening of youth activity when lockdown ends with clear guidance, and drives a long-term and joined-up national activity strategy that truly puts the interests of each and every child at its core.

“Children and young people have sacrificed great amounts over the past 12 months and it is now more important than ever to invest in their health and wellbeing.

“ukactive and its members remain committed to working side by side with Sport England and the Government to create as many positive experiences and accessible opportunities as possible for all children and young people to choose and enjoy an active life.”

To download and study the full report, click here.

Sport England  ukactive  Tim Hollingsworth  children 
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