Science

Four out of five UK children not active enough, global report suggests

Girls are lagging behind boys in physical activity, the WHO report says.

Four out of five adolescents in the UK are not doing enough exercise with girls lagging behind boys in staying active, according to a new report.

The figures, from the World Health Organisation (WHO), are the first global estimates on physical activity among 11 to 17-year-olds, involving 1.6 million students from 146 countries.

Worldwide, girls on average were found to be less active than boys, with 84.7% failing to reach the recommended exercise targets, which is slightly lower than the UK figure of 85.4%.

Globally, 77.6% of boys were reported as being too sedentary. The UK figure was 74.7%.

Students in the US did better, with 64% of boys and 80.5% of girls being classed as “insufficiently active”.

Dr Leanne Riley, a researcher at the WHO and one of the study authors, said: “The trend of girls being less active than boys is concerning.

“More opportunities to meet the needs and interests of girls are needed to attract and sustain their participation in physical activity through adolescence and into adulthood.”

The WHO recommends adolescents take part in an hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity – which can include walking, cycling or playing games – each day.

The new analysis, published in Lancet Adolescent And Child Health, found that 81% of students around the world are not meeting these requirements.

Boys in the Philippines (93%) and girls in South Korea (97%) were found to be the most inactive in the study.

Although Bangladesh had the lowest levels of inactivity for boys and girls, figures showed that two in three children (66%) were not doing an hour a day of exercise.

The authors say that levels of insufficient physical activity in adolescents continue to be extremely high, raising concerns about their current and future health.

Dr Regina Guthold, a WHO researcher and one of the study authors, said: “Urgent policy action to increase physical activity is needed now, particularly to promote and retain girls’ participation in physical activity.”

Writing in a linked comment in the journal, Dr Mark Tremblay, of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Canada, said physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for premature death worldwide.

He said: “The electronic revolution has fundamentally transformed people’s movement patterns by changing where and how they live, learn, work, play and travel, progressively isolating them indoors.

“People sleep less, sit more, walk less frequently, drive more regularly and do less physical activity than they used to.”

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