Scots children among least active in world

Physical activity shunned over screen games. Picture: Getty
Physical activity shunned over screen games. Picture: Getty
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Video game-obsessed children in Scotland are among the least active in the world, research suggests.

A study ranking 15 countries on indicators of physical activity found Scotland came bottom in both overall exercise levels and also performed badly for the amount of time spent in front of TV and computer screens.

But the nation did better in areas such as having policies and strategies to boost activity and also for having facilities and outdoor areas available for exercise.

Findings of the “Global Matrix” of children’s physical activity study, which involved researchers at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, were presented at a conference in Toronto, Canada.

The researchers awarded each of the 15 countries which were included in the study a grade from A to F based on their performance in nine different categories.

Scotland was awarded an F for its performance against targets on overall physical activity. In the UK, experts recommend children get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day, but previous research has shown few achieve this.

Scotland was also awarded an F grade for its levels of sedentary behaviour, such as children spending long periods in front of the TV or computer. Canada, Nigeria and South Africa were also awarded F grades.

But when it came to the strategies and investments in place to support physical activity, Scotland earned a B grade.

It also received a B for having facilities, such as parks and playgrounds, to support physical activity in children and young people.

As well as Scotland, the other countries which submitted data to the matrix, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, were Australia, Canada, Colombia, England, Finland, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Mozambique, New Zealand, Nigeria, South Africa and the United States.

Professor John Reilly, from Strathclyde’s School of Psychological Sciences and Health, said the research had shown wide variation around the world.

While some countries scored well in some areas, they did badly in others, suggesting countries could learn from each other, he said.

Prof Reilly said: “There is a stark mismatch between the very good national level policies we have and the reality of the ‘headline’ behaviours of very low levels of physical activity and very high levels of screen-based sedentary behaviour.

“This is partly because many of the very good policy initiatives are relatively new and will take time to have an impact.”

He said for Scotland to improve its performance it needed to focus on measures which can be taken at a local level to tackle areas such as lack of physical activity and too much screen time.

Tam Fry, of the Child Growth Foundation and National Obesity Forum, said: “We must ensure that the education system steps in as a last resort and ensures that physical activity is part of the curriculum.

“We are breeding a nation of couch potatoes. If it is just left to parents we’re not going to see it getting any better.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “If we don’t change their [youngsters’] pattern of behaviour, we risk passing inactivity and obesity down through generations.”

Sports secretary Shona Robison said: “The Scottish Government is committed to increasing physical activity and we want to make Scotland a more active country by encouraging people, and in particular young people, to make physical activity a part of their everyday lives.

“This is why this year I launched a ten-year physical activity implementation plan which aligns with the gold standard Toronto Charter and outlines our legacy ambitions.

“A key strategy to encourage more activity and to cut obesity is to focus on early years, where evidence suggests the greatest impact can be made.”