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Physical Activity Levels in The UK

Physical inactivity is a major public health challenge in the developed world and is recognized as a global epidemic.  Because of such global concerns, the UK government have set national targets and started to address the worryingly high child obesity levels. The UK government has set a target for 70% of the population to be reasonably active (30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week) by 2020. It is important to recognise that physical activity habits track from childhood to adulthood.

The Weekly Recommended Amount of Physical Activity Levels for Children in the UK

  • Children under 5 who are able to walk unaided are recommended to be active for at least 3 hours per day.
  • Children aged 5-18 twofold. It is recommended that children should be at least active for 60 minutes per a day, though it is specifically stated that this is a minimum figure and young persons are encouraged to be active for up to several hours a day.


The Health Survey for England 2015 Physical Activity in Children, examined the physical activity levels in children and England in 2015. The key findings (below) indicate that in order to help achieve the 70% target of the population being physically active,work and intervention needs to be put in place at childhood in order to encourage young individuals to be active and to sustain activity levels throughout their life. Such statistics also suggest that important role schools have in encouraging children to be more active.

Key Findings:

  • Excluding school - based activities, only 22% of children aged between 5 and 15 met the physical activity guidelines of being at least moderately active for at least 60 minutes every day.
  • 79% of children participated in activities such as walking and sports in the last week while in a lesson at school.
  • Time spent being sedentary (excluding time at school) during the week and at the weekend increased with age.
  • Fewer than 9% of children aged 2 to 4 were classified as meeting current guidelines. 


Consequences of Physical Inactivity

"Children's physical activity levels in England are alarmingly low, and the drop in activity from the ages 5-12 is concerning. Children who get enough physical activity are mentally and physically healthier, and have all round better development in adulthood - getting into the habit of doing short bursts of activity early can deliver lifelong benefits."

- Eustace de Sousa, National Lead for Children, Young People and Families



Five Extra Years

Nike implemented a campaign called 'Five Extra Years' because of the worryingly low Physical Activity levels amongst children. For more information please click here.








Telema R. Tracking of Physical activity fromchildhood to adulthood: a review. Obes Facts 2009;2: 187-195

Chief Medical Officers of the UK. Factsheet 3. Physical Activity guidelines for children and young people (5-18 years). www.nhs.uk/livewell/fitness/documents/children-and-young-people-5-18-years.pdf (Accessed October 10 2017)

Chief Medical Officers of the UK. Factsheet 2. Physical Activity Guidelines for early years (under 5s) - for children who are capable of walking. www.nhs.uk/livewell/fitness/documents/children-under-5-walking.pdf. (Accessed October 10 2017)

Chief Medical Officer, At least five a week: evidence of the impact of physical activity and it's relationship to health: A report from the chief medical officer, 2004, London Department of Health

Department of Culture media and sports strategy unit, Game Plan: A strategy for delivering government's sport and physical activity objectives, 2002, London, British heart Foundation.

IFPMA International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Association's photo stream (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ifpma/14317333088)