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Children's activity levels hold firm but significant challenges remain

We’ve published our latest Active Lives Children and Young People survey that covers the 2022-23 academic year

Children and young people’s overall activity levels are stable as the initial recovery from the pandemic was maintained across the 2022-23 academic year.

It means 47% of children meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines of taking part in an average of 60 minutes or more of sport and physical activity a day.

The figures, which we've published today in our latest Active Lives Children and Young People Survey Report, are in line with the 2018-2019 academic year, the last full year before the pandemic, and higher than in 2017-18 when we launched the survey.

Today’s findings reinforce that participation in sport and physical activity varies greatly. Significant inequalities remain in activity levels, with Black (40%) and Asian (40%) children and young people, and those from the least affluent families (44%), still less likely to play sport or be physically active than the average across all ethnicities and affluence groups. Girls (44%) are also less likely to be active than boys (51%).

The release also reveals a number of positive stories, however, including 68,000 (1.5%) more girls playing football since the Lionesses won Euro 2022. There are now 845,000 girls playing the game in England, an increase of 176,000 (4%) since the 2017-18 academic year.

There are also one million (11.5%) more children and young people walking, cycling or scootering to get places than there were five years ago (academic year 2017-18), as increases in active travel during the pandemic have been maintained since society returned to normal.

From previous research, we already know that cost-of-living concerns have impacted children and young people’s relationship with sport and physical activity.

In February, our Activity Check-in revealed that almost one in five parents/carers said they were using free activities for their children to socialise with friends instead of paid, while 12% said they'd reduced the regularity of paid activities.

And today’s report builds on these areas of concern. Children and young people from the least affluent families are the least likely to be active, with only 44% meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines – compared to 55% of those from the most affluent families.

Furthermore, the number of children doing no activity at all in the previous seven days has increased with 127,000 more children (1.4%) falling into this category compared to 2017-18, meaning there are now more than 600,000 children in England doing no activity at all.

This highlights how important it is to meet the Government’s ambitious target of getting one million more children active by the end of the decade, as well as the scale of the challenge facing the country to do so.

Click on the link below to read our report – if embedded links in the PDF do not function correctly in Google Chrome, please use another browser, or open the report in a dedicated PDF viewer: 

“While today’s figures reveal some positives and is further evidence of our sector’s ability to recover from the pandemic, they also underline how much more work there is to do to get our children and young people active.

“The fact that fewer than half are meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines demonstrates the scale of challenge facing our country.

"Too many children and young people are missing out on the benefits of living an active life – to their physical health but also mental wellbeing and positive social connection with friends and their community. We can see in the data published today: the more active the young person, the more positive their attitude towards sport and physical activity is likely to be.

“This underlines the need for more action – and greater concerted focus across Government departments, as well as across the sport and physical activity sector, and we welcome the launch of the new Physical Activity Taskforce, which meets next week, as a chance for this action to be debated.

“Whilst the overall picture is mixed, I am delighted, however, to see the continued growth in girls’ football inspired by the Lionesses and underpinned by sustained investment in recent years.

“We’re committed to building on this progress still further to ensure the beautiful game – and the health and happiness benefits it brings to millions – can truly be enjoyed by everyone.”

Tim Hollingsworth
Chief executive, Sport England

Big talking points

A child or young person's gender, ethnicity and age all impact how likely they are to be physically active. 

  • Age

    Activity levels change as children get older. They are highest for those in Years 1-2, ages 5-6 (51%) and lowest for those in Years 3-4, ages 7-9 (40%).

    Read more
  • Gender

    Boys (51%) remain more likely to be physically active than girls (44%).

    Read more
  • Ethnicity

    The gap between activity levels among Asian and Black children and young people and those of all other backgrounds has widened over the last five years (since academic year 2017-18).

    Read more
  • Disability and long-term health conditions

    The proportion of children and young people, both with and without a disability or long-term health condition, who are active has remained unchanged compared to 12 months ago.

    Read more
  • Family affluence

    Children and young people from the least affluent families are the least likely to be active, with only 44% meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines – compared to 55% of those from the most affluent families.

    Read more
  • Mental wellbeing and individual development

    There remains a positive association between levels of engagement in sport and physical activity and levels of mental wellbeing.

    Read more
  • Attitudes towards sport and physical activity

    The more positive a child or young person feels towards sport and physical activity, the more likely they are to be physically active.

    Read more

Types of activities

Active travel, going for a walk and gym and fitness have all seen long-term growth in participation levels.

These activities were growing prior to the pandemic and increased further while restrictions designed to combat the spread of the virus made other activities unavailable.

The gains in the number of children and young people walking, cycling or scootering to get to places (active travel) have been consolidated and, as such, there are now 11.5% or 1 million more children and young people travelling by active means than five years ago (compared to academic year 2017-18).

We see a similar picture for children and young people walking and there are 6.7%, or 592,000 more children and young people going for a walk than five years ago.

During the pandemic there was a large increase in gym and fitness activity, and this has been maintained. As a result, there are 11.8% or 908,000 more children and young people taking part than there were five years ago.

Some activities such as active play, team sport and swimming were notably hit during the pandemic.

While all have slightly fewer children and young people taking part than just before the pandemic (academic year 2018-19), all are either level or slightly above the earliest data we hold (academic year 2017-18), indicating a longer-term flat trend.

The number of secondary-age young people (school Years 7-11, ages 11-16) running or taking part in athletics and multi-sports remain down following a sharp drop in 2021-22.

This represents 7.9%, or 176,000 fewer young people taking part compared to five years ago (academic year 2017-18). In contrast, there's an underlying flat trend among primary-age children (school Years 1-6, ages 5-11).

Similarly, gymnastics, trampolining or cheerleading has dropped and remained down for secondary-age young people. As such, 4.5% or 88,000 fewer young people (in school Years 7-11, ages 11-16) are taking part compared to academic year 2017-18.

Swimming

Just 71% of children in school Year 7 (ages 11-12) meet the guidelines that children should be able to competently and confidently swim 25 metres by the time they leave primary school.

This represents 6.3% fewer school Year 7 children being able to do this compared to five years ago (academic year 2017-18), before the pandemic.

The number of children in school Years 1-2 able to swim this distance is 22%. This is up 3.2% in the last 12 months but is 11% down compared to five years ago.

How we're making a difference

We believe that physical activity is central to happy and healthy lives, and positive experiences at an early age help build the foundations for an active life. That’s why children and young people are a key focus of Uniting the Movement and our core work.    

Our 2022-25 implementation plan stresses the importance of creating positive experiences for children and young people that are created with opportunities designed around fun, inclusivity and safety, as well as choice. 

Last month, we announced a major and unprecedented expansion of our investment into local communities across England to ensure those in greatest need are able to be physically active.

The investment builds on the learnings from our local delivery pilots and will see £250m of National Lottery and Exchequer funding invested into our place-based work, with £190m of this focused on an additional 80-100 places which have greatest need.

In September we, along with a number of our partners, launched the Physical Literacy Consensus Statement for England.

It helps us understand that our relationship with sport and activity changes over our lifetime, and how the experiences we have and our opportunities to be active impact how likely we are to take part.

Developing consensus on the term physical literacy has been a priority, as understanding what impacts people’s relationship with movement and physical activity throughout life will enable those working in the sector to ensure their offer is as appealing as possible.

This work ties in with Play Their Way, a coaching campaign we’ve invested £4m in that encourages coaches to prioritise enjoyment and listen to what children want, that launched in May.

A collaboration between 17 partner organisations, the campaign will work with England’s 2.6m coaches to build a grassroots movement aimed at increasing and improving child-first coaching in communities across the nation.

It’s hoped that by putting the child first, it will help them enjoy being active their own way and allow great coaching to inspire children into staying active for life.

We’ve also invested £1.5m into Studio You, a ‘Netflix’-style digital platform designed to help PE teachers engage the least active girls through non-traditional online activity sessions, such as dance, combat and yoga. 

Launched in 2021, the platform is free to all secondary schools and almost half of them in England (56%) have signed up so far, and it’s estimated Studio You has already reached more than 150,000 teenage girls (154,156). 

In addition, we’ve previously invested £13.5m into secondary teacher training, which has benefited 75% (2,600) of secondary schools, helping teachers and schools better meet the needs of all children, especially those that don’t like PE.

Further reaction

  • Sports Minister Stuart Andrew

    “Just 60 minutes of exercise a day benefits young people’s physical and mental health and leads to better educational and societal outcomes.

    Read more
  • Active Travel Commissioner and Sport England Chair Chris Boardman

    “It’s working! Today’s figures show 11.5% more children and young people are cycling, walking and scooting compared to five years ago.

    Read more

Further reading

Our chief executive Tim Hollingsworth blogs on today’s report and discusses how a united effort is required to improve physical literacy levels.

Find out more

Channel website: http://www.sportengland.org/

Original article link: https://www.sportengland.org/news-and-inspiration/childrens-activity-levels-hold-firm-significant-challenges-remain

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