Latest activity figures on children and young people published

The second annual Active Lives Survey looks at participation figures and attitudes towards activity

05 December 2019 News Research Active Nation

Children’s activity levels are on the rise, according to our second annual Active Lives Children and Young People Survey.

The report, covering the academic year 2018/19, was published today with figures showing an increase of 3.6% in the number of children in England doing an average of 60 minutes or more of physical activity a day.

That means that 46.8% of the nation’s children and young people are meeting the recommended level, with the increase driven by more out of school activity – including increases in active play, team sports and walking. 

Click on the image below to read our report – if embedded links in the PDF do not function correctly in Google Chrome, please use another browser or open the report in a PDF viewer:

Government guidelines recommend that children and young people should get 30 minutes of their daily physical activity in the school day and 30 minutes outside of school.

The figures show that 57.2% (up 4.6%) of children are doing 30 minutes or more of physical activity outside of school, compared to 40.4% at school.

At the other end of the scale, 2.1 million children and young people (29.0%) are doing fewer than 30 minutes of physical activity a day, and while that number is down (by 3.9% over the last year) it's a reminder of how much more needs to be done. In the middle, another 1.7 million (24.2%) children are ‘fairly active’ – taking part in average of 30-59 minutes a day. 

Inequalities illustrated by last year’s report remain, with 54% of children from the most affluent families considered active compared to 42% from the least affluent families – while from the age of five up, boys are more active than girls at every age.

The survey also shows that active children are happier, more resilient and more trusting of others and it's also shown a positive association between being active and higher levels of mental wellbeing, individual development and community development.   

We, as part of our strategy Towards an Active Nation, are investing £194 million in children and young people within our remit of responsibility for sport and physical activity outside of school from the age of five.

 Activity Setting – at school vs out of school

  • There's a difference in the amount of sport and physical activity that takes place at school, compared to activity levels outside of school – 40.4% of children are active at school for an average of 30 minutes per day, while 57.2% of children are active outside of school for the same duration – an increase of 4.6% on last year. 
  • At school, increases have been seen for Years 3-6 (ages 7-11) - however, secondary school-age young people have seen no change and the youngest children (Years 1-2) have seen a decrease. This is seen across boys and girls. 

Family affluence

  • While there have been increases in activity levels across all levels of family affluence, children and young people from families who are less affluent are still least likely to be active (42% of children in this group are active for an average of 60 minutes+ a day, compared to 54% of children and young people from families of high affluence.) 
  • They are also least likely to enjoy being active – 43% of children from low affluence families say they enjoy being active vs 59% from high affluent families (a 16% gap). 
  • Boys from the least affluent families are more likely to be active than girls. 

Gender

  • While there have been increases in both boys' and girls' activity levels, boys are more likely to be active then girls with a gap of 319,200 between the numbers of boys who achieve the recommended amount of sport and physical activity (51% or 1.8m) and the number of girls that do (43% or 1.5m). 
  • In Years 9-11 (ages 13-16) there's only been an increase in activity levels for girls, and not boys, with an increase of 3.5% (29,800 number) doing an average of 60+ minutes a day. 

Ethnicity

  • Asian and Black children are most likely to do less than an average of 30 minutes activity a day. 

Age

  • How positively children and young people feel about sport and physical activity generally declines with age. 
  • Activity levels peak when children are aged 5-7, and again at the end of primary school (age 11-12). Children are more likely to be active at these points than at any other time during their primary or secondary education. Children and young people aged 13-16 (Years 9-11) are the least likely to be active. 
  • There are more active children than less active children across all age groups.   

Type of activity

  • Active play and informal activities remain the most common way for children in younger age groups (Years 1-6) to be active. 
  • Team sports become more common as children get older. By secondary school age, team sports are the most common group of activities.  

Mental wellbeing benefits

  • Active children and young people are more likely to report higher levels of mental wellbeing. 

Attitudes to sport and activity

  • The first Active Lives Children and Young People survey showed that enjoyment above all other elements of physical literacy is the biggest driver of children’s activity levels. 
  • The new survey shows that girls are less likely to enjoy being active than boys, with the biggest gap between the genders found around confidence and enjoyment. 
  • More physically literate children are more likely to be active. 
  • Physically literate children are happier, more resilient and more trusting of others.
  • The number of positive attitudes is the key driver of how active children are. 

This survey gives the most comprehensive overview of the sport and physical activity habits of children in England. It looks at the number of children taking part in a wide range of sport and physical activities (ranging from dance and scooting to active play and team sports) at moderate intensity, both at school and out of school.

The report is based on responses from over 130,000 children aged 5-16 in England during the academic year 2018/2019, making it the largest study of its kind.  

Further Information

Find out more about the Active Lives Surveys

Download the Active Lives Children and Young People Academic Year 2018/19 report

Download the Active Lives Children and Young People Survey - Technical Note 2018-19