Why young girls are getting fatter: They manage just 17 minutes of exercise a day
Children only get a third of recommended exercise a dayGirls less active than boys by the age of eight
00:08 GMT, 21 June 2012
Many young girls only get 17 minutes of exercise a day, research suggests.
Boys fare little better, with the average eight to ten year old active for only 24 minutes a day.
The figures – which fall well short of the hour of daily exercise recommended – have been described by campaigners as unbelievable.
Girls only got an average of 17 minutes of exercise a day
And they will fuel concerns about the future health of a ‘couch potato’ generation which prefers playing computer games to football.
Newcastle University researchers fitted 508 schoolchildren aged between eight and ten with monitors that recorded how active – or inactive – they were during their waking hours.
The results revealed how little time the children, from Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, spent doing moderate or vigorous activities such as running, skipping or dancing.
Overall, only 4 per cent of their time was spent being this physically active – equivalent to around 20 minutes.
But this was an average figure for both sexes and girls were much less active than boys.
The researchers, who believe the picture to be the same nationwide, said children must get into the habit of exercising from a young age if Britain’s obesity time-bomb is to be defused.
In need of role models Olympic athletes like Jessica Ennis could change children's attitudes to sport
Lead researcher Dr Mark Pearce said: ‘Given the importance of physical activity in maintaining good health, we know we need to get our kids more active.
‘What we hadn’t known until now is how young we need to be catching them.’
He said it was worrying that even by the age of eight girls were less active than boys.
Previous studies have found that many girls lose interest in sport by their teens but it was not known just how early this lack of enthusiasm set in.
Dr Pearce said possible solutions include encouraging young girls to see female athletes as role models and offering a wider range of sports in schools, such as dance.
The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, also found the children of older fathers tended to be less active.
This could be due to older fathers having more senior posts at work and so putting in longer hours, leaving them less time to play with their children.
They may also have different attitudes to parenting or generally be less active.
Surprisingly, the study found that children whose parents restricted their TV viewing exercised less than those allowed to watch as much as they wanted.
Dr Pearce said it is possible that seeing sport on TV encourages youngsters to participate themselves, or the finding could simply be due to chance.
Growing appetites for junk food could mean today's children risk being the first generation to die younger than their parents
With almost a third of youngsters aged between two and 15 too heavy for their height, obesity experts warn that sedentary lifestyles and growing appetites for junk food mean today’s children risk being the first generation to die at an earlier age than their parents.
Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said many children don’t have the motivation to exercise in their free time and schools must devote more time to PE.
He said: ‘Exercise alone won’t bring down obesity levels but it is desperately important to the health of the child.
‘And it will make them concentrate better in the classroom and improve their behaviour.’
Department of Health guidelines say children aged between five and 18 should do at least one hour of moderate to vigorous activity each day, such as sports, brisk walking, dancing or cycling.
And they should do activities that strengthen the muscles and bones – such as skipping, gymnastics or sit-ups – three times a week.
Adults should be active for at least 30 minutes at least five days a week.