New data showing 2.3 million children inactive highlights urgent need for national plan

Research published by Sport England today shows a decline in physical activity levels among young people last year.

The Youth Sport Trust has responded to Sport England's latest data on children and young people's activity levels.

Key findings from the Active Lives – Children and Young People data show that during the 2019/20 academic year:
  •  44.9% of young people (3.2 million) average at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day – the recommended amount set by the Chief Medical Officer. This is down from 46.8% last year – a decrease of 86,500 young people.
  • 31.3% (2.3 million) of young people averaged less than 30 minutes per day (vs. 29% last year).
  • During the summer term, after the first national lockdown, there had been a significant decline in young people’s confidence and competence – two of the key elements of physical literacy. The summer term saw activity levels for girls hold up better than for boys.
  • Sport England say the research shows that schools play a vital role in keeping young people active – both through physical education and by providing the facilities many clubs and groups rely on

Responding to the research, Youth Sport Trust Chief Executive Ali Oliver MBE, said:

"It has been an extraordinarily difficult year for young people who have seen such huge disruption to their lives and education. This research highlights the urgent need for a bold national plan to stop the decline in young people’s development and wellbeing.
“Fewer than half of young people are averaging the Chief Medical Officers’ recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. This risks storing up problems for the development and wellbeing of a generation. From supporting physical, social and emotional development to fitness and health, there is so much that an active lifestyle can and should do to help young people growing up amid the crisis of a global pandemic.
Sport England’s research confirms that activity levels which were already too low have declined further during the last year. Worryingly, the real picture for young people now may be even worse during this current period of remote learning for many, and bad weather.
This research also confirms what a vital role schools play in keeping young people active and well. It is no coincidence that young people’s confidence, development and resilience declined – especially among more disadvantaged groups – during a period when many missed regular organised sport and Physical Education.
“While we are deeply concerned at the number of young people who are inactive, the fact that 3.2 million young people remained active, and many took up new activities like walking, cycling and home fitness is reason for encouragement, and should give us all something to build on. 
“Amid the huge challenges of the past year, the fact that these results are not worse is a huge testament to the incredible efforts of families, schools, School Games Organisers, coaches and organisations who pulled out all the stops to adapt and get children active in new and innovative ways. Our heartfelt thanks go to all of them. We saw from the hundreds of thousands of downloads of our free resources over the past year the appetite and enthusiasm to find new ways to ensure young people didn’t miss out.
“Turning the tide on inactivity and guaranteeing every child the life-changing benefits that come from 60 daily minutes of sport and activity should now be central to our national recovery plan for young people. We are urging government to bring forward a new School Sport & Activity Action Plan and, in the aftermath of COVID-19, set out a bold vision for our children to be the happiest and most active in the world.”

The Schools Active Movement, representing School Sport Partnerships, also responded to the findings.

Alan Watkinson, Director of Sport Impact  and Vince Brittain, CEO of Inspire+ said:

The Active Lives survey reflects an amazing effort to keep children active in extremely challenging circumstances. We see this in the professionalism, creativity and determination of our members and of the wider sector.

However, we are still in a critical situation where long-term physical and mental health is under a severe threat. Covid-19 has shone a light on some fundamental challenges for our society in terms of the extremely poor health of the nation and the capacity of the NHS to respond.

“We cannot afford to be complacent. Government now needs to harness, empower and invest in the expertise of our dedicated professionals. The School Sport and Activity Action Plan needs to provide a comprehensive and coordinated local offer backed up by a national infrastructure. It must guarantee truly accountable ringfenced funding for all schools. We must harness, empower and invest in our dedicated professionals and provide them with the tools to ensure that this generation of children are healthier, happier and more active than any generation ever before.”

Parents/carers and schools looking for information and support on how to keep children moving can do so here
Published on 14 January 2021