Increases in children’s physical activity levels stunted by coronavirus pandemic

By GreaterSport | 15 January 2021 | TAGS: Active Lives, Children and young people, research, Inequalities


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Sport England have today released their Active Lives Children and Young People data. This survey provides the most comprehensive overview of the sport and physical activity habits of children, aged 5 - 16 in England. Today’s announcement covers the academic year Sept 19 – July 20 and is the first indication of how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting on the activity levels of children.

It shows that 39.6% of children & young people are active for at least 60 minutes a day in Greater Manchester, which equates to 158,100. This means that 241,000 children are not meeting the recommended guidelines of 60 minutes a day.

These numbers show a 5.6% decrease in active children from the survey 12 months ago, which equates to 18,600 fewer children and young people meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines.

Greater Manchester follows the national trend with a drop in activity levels amongst children and young people. Sport England report that ‘the survey showed activity levels were increasing in the autumn term (2019) and the overall drop over the academic year was due to disruption caused by the storms in the spring term and the impact of the pandemic across the summer term’. The national statistics also show that the pandemic hit certain social groups harder than others with those from Black and Asian backgrounds more impacted than those who are White, and boys more impacted than girls.

Nationally the proportion of children that are active has dropped from 46.8% to 44.9% in 12 months; Greater Manchester in the same time period has seen a notably larger decrease. There has been no significant change compared to the 2017/18 baseline data meaning that we still have a similar proportion of young people moving here in Greater Manchester than we did when the survey began three years ago.

When the number of adults moving in Greater Manchester is added to this it totals;

  • 1.9 million residents moving towards GreaterSport’s target of 2 million people moving by 2021.
  • 68.5% of the GM population moving towards the GM Moving target of 75% by 2025.

Today’s announcement follows the adult active lives survey released in October which also saw a drop in activity levels in Greater Manchester and nationally.

Over the year the support to enable children and young people to move more and reduce inequalities has been impacted, but Greater Manchester has adapted in many ways including;

  1. The School Games Organisers took the School Games virtual for 2020. Find out more and how Woodheys Primary School in Trafford found it here.
  2. Partners in localities worked closely to ensure Summer camps to keep key worker / vulnerable children moving could safely still access provision and support as many young people as possible.
  3. Sessions like Astley Sports Village Girls Boxercise programme turned virtual after successfully gaining funding from the Satellite Clubs programme to adapt their session and purchase more equipment. Read more about how they transitioned and the impact it has had here.
  4. Recruitment of a ‘Young People Equalities Lead’ into GreaterSport to help close the inequality gap in physical activity and movement, and promote inclusivity and diversity to GreaterSport and our partner organisations.

Hayley Lever, GM Moving Exec Lead and CEO of GreaterSport said, “We are hugely disappointed to see a drop in activity levels, given the progress that was being made before the pandemic. It has been a challenging time for children, parents, teachers and community sport and activity providers.

Physical activity is so important for physical and mental health and wellbeing, for children’s social lives and personal development too. It provides short and long term benefits, helping with mood, energy levels and increasing concentration to support learning at home and school. These are all vital to our children and young people, especially during the pandemic. GreaterSport will continue our important work to support and enable active lives, and will support local partners, communities and families with a variety of resources that can be used to keep children and adults moving through the latest lockdown. Working together, we can keep GM Moving so that people of all ages can experience the benefits.”

There are ideas and guidance for keeping moving through this pandemic, including an area designated for children at

Sport England have created two reports from the findings. The first covers the full 2019/20 academic year and the second focusses specifically on children and young people’s behaviours in the summer term as activity restarted after the first national lockdown. These can be found here.

We would like to thank the schools in Greater Manchester who support the Active Lives survey by taking part so we can get this data and more insight into young people’s attitudes and behaviors that becomes available in the coming weeks.

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