Home » Daily exercise ‘disappearing from children’s lives and they’re not eating well’

Daily exercise ‘disappearing from children’s lives and they’re not eating well’

A new study suggests children are not getting enough exercise (Image: PA Wire/PA Images)

An expert has warned that day-to-day exercise is “largely disappearing from young people’s lives”, as new data reveals England and Wales are near the bottom of a global league table on children’s activity levels.

The study, conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and covering 44 countries, indicates that England, Wales and Scotland are performing poorly in areas such as daily exercise like brisk walking, and not all children have breakfast on school days.

Despite improvements in areas like daily fruit and vegetable consumption, children are still not eating enough to meet healthy eating guidelines.

The survey also highlighted significant disparities, particularly in the UK, between children from affluent families and those from poorer backgrounds, with the latter far less likely to eat well or exercise.

Happy friends, children and running with grass field in nature for fun, playful day or sunshine at park. Diversity or group of excited kids or youth e

A study says UK children are not exercising enough (stock image) (Image: Getty)

The study examined the lives of children aged 11, 13 and 15 living in Europe, Central Asia and Canada, including over 4,000 children each in England and Scotland, plus children in Welsh schools.

The findings revealed that 30 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys in England, and 27 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys in Wales, are inactive across all age groups surveyed.

In Scotland, 21 percent of girls and 12 percent of boys are inactive. By the age of 15, only 11 percent of girls and 16 percent of boys in England engage in at least 60 minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, such as brisk walking, cycling or rollerblading.

The statistics reveal that 7 percent of girls and 16 percent of boys in Wales, and 12 percent of girls and 21 percent of boys in Scotland are active. These figures place England and Wales near the bottom of the global table, trailing behind countries such as Romania, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Norway, and Croatia.

Granola with strawberries, kiwi, banana and blueberries in a round plate on a white table.

A study found children need to eat more fruit and vegetables. (Image: Getty)

The situation improves when considering more vigorous activities like team sports, but the UK still falls below the average for all countries studied.

Dr Jo Inchley, international co-ordinator for the study titled Health Behaviour In School-Aged Children, and from the University of Glasgow, told PA news agency: “In the UK, we’re consistently low on physical activity.”

She added: “We do see relatively high levels of young people involved in what we call vigorous activities, that might be sort of organised sports… But we’ve got big gender differences and big socio-economic differences.”

She further explained: “At age 15, we’ve got two thirds of boys in the UK, roughly, who are taking part in vigorous physical activity four or more times a week, but only a third of girls.”

A little girl with a soccer ball on the lawn.

A study found only a third of girls play vigorous sport (stock image) (Image: Getty)

This means there are twice as many boys as girls participating in these activities.

She also noted: “On more day-to-day moderate to vigorous physical activity, where the heart is beating a little bit faster but it’s not high-impact exercise, that’s largely disappearing from young people’s lives.”

She concluded by saying: “So previously, when young people would have spent a lot of time outdoors just playing in the local streets or walking to friends’ houses or going to the park, that (figure) would have been a lot a lot higher.”

“Now we’re really seeing that coming down very low. I think that’s quite worrying because that can have a big impact on young people’s health and wellbeing.”

When it comes to eating breakfast before school, which experts say is a good healthy eating habit for children, some 37 percent of 13 year old girls and 59 percent of boys in England eat breakfast on weekdays, while the figure is 33 percent and 54 percent respectively in Wales and 36 percent and 61 percent in Scotland.

The situation improves when considering more vigorous activities like team sports, but the UK still falls below the average for all countries studied. Dr Jo Inchley, international co-ordinator for the study titled Health Behaviour In School-Aged Children, and from the University of Glasgow, told PA news agency: “In the UK, we’re consistently low on physical activity.”

She added: “We do see relatively high levels of young people involved in what we call vigorous activities, that might be sort of organised sports… But we’ve got big gender differences and big socio-economic differences.”

She further explained: “At age 15, we’ve got two thirds of boys in the UK, roughly, who are taking part in vigorous physical activity four or more times a week, but only a third of girls.”

Healthy Breakfast Preparation By Stylish Woman In Kitchen

The study also found some children don’t eat breakfast before school. (Image: Getty)

This is below other countries including Portugal, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Norway.

Girls in England, Wales and Scotland are less likely to eat breakfast than the average for all countries in the study.

By age 15, just 35 percent of girls in England eat breakfast daily on weekdays (below average for all countries), as do 51 percent of boys.

When it comes to fruit, 46 percent of girls and 43 percent of boys aged 11 in England eat fruit daily, as do 38 percent of girls and 35 percent of boys in Wales and 54 percent of girls and 52 percent of boys in Scotland.

Dr Inchley said: “I think we’re seeing a trend in the UK… decreases in breakfast consumption over time.”

Healthy rainbow colored fruits and vegetables background

Only 46 percent of girls and 43 percent of boys aged 11 in England eat fruit daily. (Image: Getty)

“That is worrying because that means young people are going to school without having anything to eat, which will affect their ability to learn and concentrate.”

“It’s particularly low for 13 to 15-year-old girls less than about 40% having breakfast every day on school days and that’s definitely an area of concern.”

“Breakfast consumption sets you up for the day and is associated with a range of positive health outcomes and educational outcomes.”

“More generally, I think it speaks to kind of healthier eating pattern, which of course then links to overweight and obesity as well.”

Highlighting glaring disparities, Dr Inchley explained: “Almost twice as many young people from high socio-economic groups are eating vegetables, for example, compared with lower socio-economic groups. That is a massive difference.”

Healthy food: Balanced flexitarian diet

A study says British children are not eating enough fruit and vegetables. (Image: Getty)

“I think poverty must be a massive driver behind that.”

Adding to this, she noted: “Also, young people growing up in poorer areas may be less likely to be able to access fresh fruit and vegetables, it can be more costly for younger people to buy them, and there’s maybe sort of cultural barriers around preparing fresh meals every day and so on.”

She said it was positive that, over time, children seem to be eating more fruit and vegetables and there has been a drop in sugary drinks consumption.

Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said: “Regular physical activity, healthy eating habits and maintaining a healthy weight are essential elements of a healthy lifestyle.”

He also emphasised: “The report’s findings signal a need for targeted interventions to enable adolescents to adopt healthier behaviours and avoid habits that affect not only their current health and well-being, but also their future trajectories as adults.”

The study also revealed that 27 percent of 11 year old girls and 24 percent of 11 year old boys in England perceive themselves as overweight. This sentiment is shared by 31 percent of girls and 23 percent of boys in Wales.

By the time they reach 15, the figures rise dramatically with 43 percent of girls and 29 percent of boys in England considering themselves too fat. In Wales, this figure jumps to 50 percent for girls and 30 percent for boys.