London Sport activity for children.

Less than half of London children meet recommended physical activity levels

Less than half of children and young people in London are meeting the recommended levels of physical activity, according to a new report.

The report published by Sport England last month demonstrated that at 46% of children meeting guidelines, London is also just below the national average of 47%, putting it in the bottom third of the 45 UK regions surveyed.

The statistics are based on survey responses from pupils in years 3-11, and parents of pupils in Years 1-2, therefore ages ranging from six to 16.

The Chief Medical Officers’ guideline is to take part in an average of 60 minutes or more of sport and physical activity a day.

London Sport is a charity promoting active living, particularly focusing on children and adults in the most deprived communities who face the greatest challenges of inequality.

Anil Manji, Head of Communications and Marketing at London Sport, explained that the city has several challenges which are contributing to the ‘inactivity crisis’.

Manji said: “Where you have a lot of inequality, you have lot of inactivity for both children and adults.

“Whilst there has been some progress with regards to physical activity participation of children in the capital, it has been considerably less when compared to the rest of England.

“Financial constraints on families are the primary obstacle preventing access to more physical activity opportunities for children in London.”

Percentage of children meeting the guidelines of 60+ minutes activity a day. (Source: Sport England 2022-23 Active Lives Survey)

According to London Sport research, more than a third (38%) of Londoners reported the cost-of-living crisis had either a significant or somewhat negative impact on their ability to exercise, compared to a quarter of people (25.6%) when looking at the data for the rest of the UK.

The glaring disparity within the city is exemplified by the fact that children from the most affluent families in London are 14% more likely to be active compared to children from the least affluent families.

The disparity between different groups of children and young people is also a grave problem, as the report revealed girls are 7% less likely to participate in physical activity and sports than boys. 

This gap is larger in London, with 40% of girls being physically active compared to 48% of boys. 

London Sport’s research indicates that one of the main reasons for this is that more than a third of teenage girls don’t feel safe exercising outdoors.

To encourage more physical activity amongst girls, the charity has launched a campaign called ‘Space For Girls’, aimed at creating safe and accessible spaces exclusively for girls.

They have created activities such as a girl-only skate park in Lewisham and a girls-only boxing club, both of which have successfully increased participation. 

There are also striking differences between different ethnicities of children in London. 

Percentage of children who are meeting the guidelines of 60+ minutes a day (Source: London Sport Children & Activity Levels 2022)

The data shows Asian and Black children are considerably less likely to be as physically active as other ethnicities in London.

Notably, whilst every other ethnicity has seen an improvement in physical activity participation over the last five years, the graph demonstrates that for Asian children, there has been a decrease from 44% to 40%.

This lack of progress could be explained by the cost-of-living report by London Sport, which revealed that 57% of Londoners from ethnic minority backgrounds are negatively impacted by the crisis, compared to 44% nationally.

Manji said: “London is an incredibly diverse city, and it is crucial that children from all backgrounds get equal access to leisure, sports and physical activity.

“It’s about changing an entire system, we cannot simply ignore this problem.

“It’s not just about chucking money so children can have fun, it’s about reducing future healthcare problems and ensuring children can improve their mental health and overall happiness.

“There’s so many co-benefits with improving the physical activity and health of children, we need a wholehearted commitment to addressing the structural issues preventing progress.”

“Investment in the sports sector can save billions and billions of pounds for the NHS, a long-term strategy is needed.” 

According to the Public Health England Team, physical inactivity is associated with one in six deaths in the UK and is estimated to cost the UK £7.4bn annually.

Pointing to the data and research which has been carried out, Manji also highlighted that physical activity participation impacts attainment in school, and improves the wellbeing of children.

The results from Sport England’s data did include some positive findings, with an additional one million (11.5%) children walking, cycling and scooting, compared to data from 2017-18.

Primarily, Manji and London Sport are calling for national and local governments to increase investment in the city to provide better funded and free activities for children across London.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “The Mayor has invested over £20m into community sport projects across London and developed partnerships with organisations including Sport England and the London Marathon Foundation, amongst others, to improve young Londoners’ access to sport.”

“By continuing to work with partners and investing in grassroots sport initiatives, Sadiq is building a healthier, fairer London for everyone.”  

London Sport has launched a new manifesto which includes five key policy areas aimed at tackling the capital’s on-going inactivity crisis, which can be read here.

Feature Image Credit: London Sport

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