Physical activity declines every year in primary school

A recent study from the University of Bristol has found that there is a dramatic drop in the physical activity levels of children by the time they reach the end of primary school.

The Chief Medical Officer recommends that children should undertake moderate to vigorous physical activity for 60 minutes a day; 30 minutes in school and 30 minutes outside of school. In Greater Manchester six out of ten young people do not meet these guidelines. Whilst those achieving 60 minutes a day declines from 17.0% in primary school to 15.8% in secondary school.

Whilst physical activity levels are declining throughout primary school the number of children classified as overweight or obese is increasing. In Greater Manchester 10.4% of 4-5 year olds are classified as obese, by the time they reach year 6, 10-11 years old, these levels have more than doubled to 21.9%. Meanwhile, in the most deprived areas the prevalence of obesity amongst 11 year olds is more than double that in the least deprived areas.

The study found that through a child’s time in primary school their physical activity levels decline both during the week and on weekends whilst their time spent sedentary increase. There was a weekday decline in moderate to vigorous physical activity of almost 11 minutes a day and over 15 minutes on weekends. Whilst time spend sedentary increased between the ages of 6 and 11 by over one hour, which equates to 400 additional hours spent sedentary.

It was also highlighted that certain factors had a significant impact on both activity levels and sedentary time with gender being a key factor. By the age of six girls were already less active than boys and their decline in activity levels was much steeper. In Greater Manchester 44.4% of boys are active whilst just 33.3% of girls are active.

The research also highlighted the need for dedicated work on the physical activity patterns of children who start primary school overweight or obese. As well as a need to identify the causes for the differences in weekday and weekend activity levels for different groups, in particular around gender and BMI, to help shape behaviour change programmes.

A key pointer was that opportunities are available for all young people to be as active as possible which will ensure there is less opportunity for differences between groups of young people to develop as they age. In Greater Manchester we are supporting a wide range of initiatives including The Daily Mile and School Games to ensure there are opportunities for all young people to engage with physical activity.

Francesca Speakman; Senior Officer (Start and Develop Well)

‘The figures released in this article are incredibly concerning and requires further whole system approaches. To learn that socio-economic differences in childhood BMI begin before the age of 4, it’s vital we work to address physical development in our Early Years settings. We must work to ensure transition to Primary School continues to keep physical activity at the heart of individual’s development and highlights the need for a more joined up approach, much like the work emerging from the School Readiness agenda in Greater Manchester.

In Greater Manchester we have some incredible examples of education settings taking innovative approaches to tackle this serious issue. Schools currently have the advantage of sustained funding into Primary School Sport Premium which is earmarked to improve the opportunities’ for all pupils at primary age for this academic year.

Our Greater Manchester School of the Year for commitment to PE and Sport: Holy Family RC Primary in Rochdale, is an excellent example of this, offering multiple options for activity throughout the school day and specifically targeting reception age children with bike-ability. One particular project focussed on engaging those who didn’t usually partake in school sport, offering a bespoke Change 4 Life programme. Pupils were consulted about this initiative so we could ensure we were providing activities that were engaging and helping each child to reach their full sporting potential. This, along with initiatives such as the cookery club and Friendship Club, have led to a significant impact in the uptake of after school sports across KS2 from 24.5% in 2013 to 96.2% for the academic year 2018-19.’

Anyone who would like support spending their Primary School Sport Premium in a sustained and impactful way, get in touch with [email protected]