Call for action to increase Scottish children's activity levels

Just one in ten Scottish children achieve recommended levels of physical activity every day, a new study conducted for the Scottish Government has revealed.

Just one in ten Scottish children achieve recommended levels of activity. Picture: Michael Gillen
Just one in ten Scottish children achieve recommended levels of activity. Picture: Michael Gillen

According to the research, the vast majority of ten and 11-year-olds in Scotland are failing to meet guidelines, which say they should do at least one hour of moderate to vigorous exercise daily.

The findings were based on information provided by 774 ten and 11-year-olds taking part in the long-standing “Growing Up in Scotland” study.

It found that on average children were sedentary for 7.5 hours per day (7.7 hours during weekdays and 7.1 hours on weekends).

The latest statistics are another blow to the Scottish Government’s child health record and follow a 2016 international report which revealed Scotland’s children are among the least active in the world.

The average it was found that children spent 73 minutes in moderate to vigorous physical activity per day – 76 minutes per weekday and 64 minutes per weekend day.

Boys were found to be more active than girls, but researchers said they found no significant differences between children from richer and poorer backgrounds despite wealthier children being more likely to have access to sports facilities.

According to advice issued by the UK’s chief medical officers, all children aged between five and 18 should take part in physical activity for “at least 60 minutes and up to several hours” every day. Only 11 per cent of ten and 11-year-olds are meeting the guidelines.

The proportion of children who met the guidelines increased to 60 per cent when the amount of physical activity was taken as an average across all days. Physical activity was measured by children reporting how much exercise they took or by wearing an activity monitor.

Opposition politicians claimed the findings were “alarming” at a time when obesity poses a major problem for Scottish children.

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “This is a problem for everyone, regardless of deprivation or gender – the entire country is impacted.

“From a public health perspective, it’s alarming that so few children are doing enough exercise each day.

“We’ve always known activity levels in Scotland are lower than they should be.

Mr Briggs claimed the public would be “stunned” to learn just 11 per cent of children managed 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) every day.

He added: “Going on this survey, that situation is only going to get worse in the years and decades to come. If the Scottish Government doesn’t take strong action to address this now, thousands upon thousands of Scots will suffer the implications further down the line.”

Last year, Nicola Sturgeon pledged to make Scotland a “Daily Mile nation” by rolling out the primary school fitness scheme, which encourages youngsters to walk at least a mile each day to secondary schools, colleges and universities.

However, the most recent statistics show that around one in five children starting primary school in Scotland are still at risk of being overweight or obese, with the risk higher for those from poorer backgrounds.

Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray linked the findings to teacher cuts made by the Scottish Government. He said: “SNP ministers have repeatedly failed to deal with this crisis, with the number of home economics teachers having plummeted since they came to power and the SNP government failing to provide outdoor sports facilities to schools.”

Scottish Lib Dem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said the Scottish Government must invest more in encouraging healthy living.

He added: “Healthy eating and lifestyle choices start in childhood. These new statistics confirm the need for children to be spending less time vegetating and more time exercising outside despite the ropey Scottish weather.

“The strain on our waist line creates a strain on our NHS.”

Aileen Campbell, Minister for Public Health and Sport, said: “This government is working to create a culture where children are as active as possible, helping to develop good habits throughout life. We have made a commitment for Scotland to become the first Daily Mile nation, with more than two in five primary schools currently taking part.”