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Most children 'not active enough'

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Several news sources report that British children are not getting enough exercise. According to BBC News, only one in eight young people in this country are getting the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day. The reports are based on the findings of a survey published today by the British Heart Foundation.

What is the basis for these current reports?

The news reports follow the findings of a survey of more than 1,000 school children aged eight to 15 who were questioned about the amount of daily exercise they took and their awareness of the need for regular physical activity. Results of the survey were published today by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), which carried it out as part of the Food4Thought campaign.

Through an online survey, the BHF asked 1029 UK children from the ages of 8 to 15 how much exercise they did each day during the summer. The responses were multiple choice, with children also being asked how much exercise they thought they should be doing, what prevented them doing it, and whether exercise was fun or a chore.

According to a press release from the BHF, only one-in-eight children replied that they did 60 minutes of physical activity a day. One in three did less than an hour a week, while 30% said that they “couldn’t be bothered” and 20% said they thought they did not need to exercise because they were not overweight. More than 55% of the children said that they spent 60 minutes or more a day texting, talking on the phone or using instant messaging and social networking sites. A reported 78% of the children were apparently unaware of the recommended daily amount of exercise.

What did the survey cover?

The children were asked:

  • How much exercise do you do in a week?
  • How much exercise do you think you should do in a week?
  • How much time do you spend chatting to your friends (including texting /talking on the telephone, using social networking sites and instant messaging) in a day?
  • What stops you from doing exercise?
  • Do you enjoy PE lessons at school?
  • Do you think exercise is important for someone that looks healthy and isn’t overweight?
  • What’s the best part of doing exercise?
  • Do you think physical activity is fun or a chore?

What is Food4Thought?

The Food4Thought is the BHF’s campaign to get children more active as part of the battle against childhood obesity. The ongoing campaign has been running for five years but in this phase of it the charity is encouraging children to think more about the amount of physical activity that they take part in and what food they eat.

On their website, the BHF recommends ways that people can get involved in the campaign, encouraging parents and teachers to get their child’s school to take part in a new sporting event called Ultimate Dodgeball, where teams of seven to 16 year olds can arrange their own fundraising dodgeball tournaments. Schools can apply for a free kit worth £30, which includes guides to setting up tournaments and three balls.  The BHF website also features information on a number of physical activities children can try.

How much physical activity should children get?

The Department of Health recommends that each day children should get 60 minutes of physical activity of at least moderate intensity, and that at least twice a week this should include activities to improve bone health, muscle strength and flexibility. This advice is reportedly very similar to other countries around the world and is based on rigorous review and discussion of the evidence about the benefits of exercise for children. The recommendation is endorsed by the BHF, which is encouraging children to think more about the types of physical activity they take part in.

Department of health guidance says that the key benefits of exercise for children are the avoidance of weight gain, achieving a peak bone mass, improved mental wellbeing and reducing the risk factors for disease.

Links to the headlines

1 in 3 schoolchildren are active for less than an hour a week. Daily Mail, September 28 2009

Exercise is toil for kids. Daily Mirror,  September 28 2009

Children are ‘exercising less’. BBC news, September 28 2009

Further reading

British Heart Foundation: ‘Exercise? Am I bothered?’ say Britain’s children

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