Children in UK 'less active' than rest of the world

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New research, which ranks 38 countries for children’s physical activity, places England, Scotland and Wales among the worst.

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The Alliance blames digitisation on children's reduced physical activity levels

Compiled by the Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance, a network of researchers and health professionals, it gives England and Wales a grade of D-, and Scotland an F, placing it in last position with countries including Belgium, China, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The rankings reveal a slight drop in England’s grade for 2014 when it received an overall grade of C/D.

On average, the 2016 rankings show that high-income countries fare worse for overall physical activity than low-income countries, including Mozambique and Mexico which scored higher than England, Scotland and Wales.

Among those rated as the best for physical activity in children are Slovenia (grade A-), New Zealand (grade B-) and Zimbabwe.

The Alliance blames ‘digitalisation’ for reduced levels of physical activity in the worst offending countries, and says that being active is not a way of life for children as it is in those countries that fared the best. It goes on to suggest that having policies and programmes in place to get children moving fails to make a difference if being active isn’t a ‘cultural norm’.

Dr Mark Tremblay, chair of the Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance, said, ‘Automation, mechanisation, urbanisation, and digitisation have reduced physical activity levels globally.

'Efforts to manage these trends are essential and extend beyond creating policies, strategies, facilities and programmes to include the preservation and promotion of physical and social habitats where being physically active year round, through outdoor play, transportation, recreation and sport, are the preferred and normative standard, not the exception. This is the contemporary global challenge for all countries.

‘Countries with the most active children and youth overall, including Slovenia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe, rely on very different approaches to get children to move more. But, what is consistent between all of them is that physical activity is driven by pervasive cultural norms – being active is not just a choice, but a way of life.’

He added, ‘I hope that countries can learn from each to improve their grades and the physical activity levels of children across the world.’

The Alliance hopes to repeat the study in two or three years’ time with more countries.

Eustace de Sousa, national lead for children, young people and families at Public Health England (PHE), said, 'It’s unacceptable that one child in five leaves primary school obese and most don’t do enough physical activity, endangering their long term health. It’s up to all of us to ensure children get enough physical activity. This principle is at the core of the Childhood Obesity Plan – more funding for schools to get children moving and more support for families to keep children active outside of school too.'

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