Majority of parents say their children are less active than before lockdown

Ahead of schools’ return, our new research finds parents want to see young people active every day.

More than two in three parents say they have seen their children’s physical activity levels decrease during lockdown, new research published ahead of schools reopening has found.

The research, commissioned by children’s charity the Youth Sport Trust and conducted by YouGov, also found that only a minority of parents (21%) believe their children are currently active for at least the recommended average of 60 minutes every day.

The Youth Sport Trust has said that the findings show the urgent need for a renewed focus on sport and physical education when pupils return next week. Four in five parents (81%) say it is important that schools ensure every pupil is active for 30 minutes every day and 78% say they should have at least two hours of weekly physical education.

The research among UK parents of children aged 18 and under was carried out in February 2021 by YouGov. It found:

  • 69% of parents believe that their children are less physically active now compared to a year ago, before the Coronavirus pandemic. Only 15% said their children’s activity levels had not changed and 12% thought their children were now more active.
  • When asked about their children’s activity levels, almost 4 in 5 parents (79%) reported that their children were currently doing less than 60 minutes every day. Three in five (60%) say their children are active, but for 30 minutes or less. A further 11% say their children are currently doing no activity at all.
  • Four in five parents (81%) now believe that schools should be ensuring that pupil is physically active for at least 30 minutes every day while in school, with similar numbers (78%) calling for schools to provide at least two hours per week of physical education to every pupil.

The research also found a lack of awareness among parents as to how much physical activity children should be doing. The Chief Medical Officer guidelines recommend that children should be doing an average of 60 minutes of physical activity every day, however only 38% of parents are aware of this target with 44% believing the target to be 30 minutes or less.

The Youth Sport Trust and other sporting organisation have called for the remainder of this academic year in schools to be positioned as an active recovery term for young people, characterised by a renewed focus on sport, physical activity and physical education, and time outdoors.

Youth Sport Trust Chief Executive Ali Oliver MBE said:

“We know that the last year has taken a significant toll on young people’s wellbeing. That so many parents have seen a decline in young people’s engagement in physical activity is extremely concerning. It is especially worrying that as many as one in ten parents believe their children are now completely inactive.

“Active young people are healthier, happier and better equipped to learn. Next week pupils will be returning to the classroom in need of support rebuilding their confidence, sense of belonging and wellbeing. After a year of huge disruption and inactivity, schools’ essential role in getting them active and nurturing their enjoyment of sport and movement again will never have been more important.

“Schools and teachers who have so brilliantly kept things going during a turbulent year, play an essential role in nurturing the healthy habits and lifestyles that are so crucial to young people’s development.

“To support schools and teachers, the Youth Sport Trust and partners including national governing bodies of sport, charities and activity providers have united behind the concept of an Active Recovery term, characterised by daily physical activity, time outdoors and a greater focus on physical education and sport. Together we will be making ideas, content and resources which support engagement, learning and recovery, easy to access and free to use.

"We are pleased to be working with Sport England to address the many challenges we know children and schools face and it has been encouraging to have recent engagement with the Secretaries of State for Education and Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on this issue.

“In the longer term, we continue to call on the government to make a bold and courageous commitment to a national ambition for our young people to be the happiest and most active in the world. This should be underpinned by a renewed national strategy to tackle inactivity and recover young people’s wellbeing."


Methodology note

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1,109 parents with children aged 18 and under. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17th - 19th February 2021.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB parents (aged 18+).

Published on 5 March 2021