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Children’s activity levels recover to pre-pandemic levels

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Posted 8th December 2022

Children and young people’s activity levels overall have recovered to pre-pandemic levels, with 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, are 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.

Our Active Lives Children and Young People survey, which covers the 2021-22 academic year, shows that overall activity levels are up 2.6%, meaning there are 219,000 more active children compared to the previous academic year.

Activity levels are now back in line with the 2018-2019 academic year, the last full year before the pandemic.

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.

Boys, whose activity levels were most impacted during the pandemic, have largely driven the recovery (50% of boys are now doing an average of 60 minutes a day compared to 45% of girls).

There are also some stats today which look at the types of activity that are growing for girls. For example, 100,000 more girls are playing football regularly compared to when we started the survey in 2017, and this is even before the massive visibility boost for the game during this year’s UEFA European Women’s Football Championship.

In another positive story for girls, the figures show that secondary-aged girls are now more active than at any point since the survey began in the 2017-18 academic year, aided in part by our investments including Studio You, free video-based PE lessons for girls aged 13-16 powered by the This Girl Can campaign.

Alongside the growth in the number of active children, the number of less active children, those doing less than 30 minutes of physical activity a day, has decreased by 143,000 (2.3%).

However, there is an increase in the number of children and young people doing no activity at all in the previous seven days, up by a quarter of a million (3.3%) since pre-pandemic.

Interestingly, the recovery is not universal with primary-aged children, specifically those in School Years 3-4 (ages 7-9) and Black boys of primary ages not yet back at pre-pandemic levels.

Those from low affluence families are still less likely to be active than those from high affluence (42% compared to 52%) and children and young people going to school in the most deprived places in the country have not seen activity recover to pre-pandemic levels. They are also less likely to say they have positive attitudes towards sport and physical activity, and they have lower wellbeing scores.

There are signs that certain interventions make a big difference. For example, the 12 locations around the country called the ‘Local Delivery Pilots’ that we’ve been investing in since 2017 to test and learn how to promote physical activity at a local level with a range of partners – many of which are in the most deprived places – have seen activity levels rise to 3.6% above pre-pandemic level.

The survey provides even more evidence of the benefits of getting active for mental health, with more children and young people getting active to help with their mental wellbeing, with a significant increase in the proportion of those exercising to relax and worry less (up 1.2%), and socially for fun with friends (up 2.1%). Those with higher activity levels continue to have higher levels of wellbeing.

Active children and young people are more likely to be happy and less likely to feel lonely often or always than those who are less active.

Overall, levels of wellbeing for children and young people, including happiness, life satisfaction and worthwhileness are still down. With cost-of-living pressures and young people still bearing the brunt of Covid-19, supporting children and young people to be active and play sport has never been more important.

Physical literacy is the foundation for movement, and we measure it by the number of positive attitudes that children have towards sport and physical activity like enjoyment, confidence, competence, understanding and knowledge.

However, physical literacy levels have not recovered to pre-pandemic rates and fewer children are reporting each of the positive attitudes.

Since physically literate children are more likely to be active and have higher levels of mental wellbeing, it’s vital that there is a focus on providing positive experiences with fun and choice offered, and children involved in decisions around design and delivery.

Read the report online.

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