Four in five adolescents aren't exercising enough, WHO warns

Four in Five British adolescents aren't doing enough exercise, the WHO has warned [Photo: Getty]

Four in five teenagers in the UK do not do enough physical activity with experts warning that an “electronic revolution” has left too many children glued to their gadgets. 

The stats from the World Health Organisation, which are the first global estimates on physical activity among adolescents, suggest that “couch potato” lifestyles have become the norm.

Girls are less active than boys in 142 of the 146 countries studied, including the UK, where 75% of boys and 85% of girls do not do enough exercise. 

The figures, published in Lancet Adolescent and Child Health, found that in 2016, more than 80% of school-going adolescents aged 11–17 years did not meet current recommendations for daily physical activity, compromising their current and future health.

Researchers analysed data from 298 school-based surveys from 146 countries of 1·6 million students aged 11–17 years, to discover how much physical activity adolescents were undertaking.

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Study authors say the situation is serious and suggest that urgent action is needed, to promote and retain children’s participation in physical activity, particularly girls.

Adolescents are recommended to do an hour’s moderate to vigorous physical activity a day, which can include walking or cycling to and from school and running games.

The World Health Organisation says failing to do enough exercise is damaging children's health as well as their brain development and social skills.

“This is not the good start in life that we would want for our children and adolescents,” Dr Fiona Bull, one of the study authors and the WHO’s lead expert on physical activity told Guardian.

“The data is worrying for all – parents, the community and the health system.

“Young people have the right to play and should be provided with the opportunities to realise their right to physical and mental health and wellbeing.

“Policy makers and stakeholders should be encouraged to act now for the health of this and future young generations.”

Leanne Riley, report co-author and coordinator of non-communicable disease surveillance at the WHO, told Telegraph that growing use of smartphones, computers and gaming devices was impacting physical activity.

“The electronic revolution has encouraged teenagers to sit down more, they tend to do more digital than active play,” Ms Riley said. 

“These figures should be a wake up call, we need to do more to make sport and physical activity appealing for girls – and provide an environment for them to safely participate,” she added.

The study authors are now calling for action from Governments to help increase physical activity among adolescents.

“Strong political will and action can address the fact that four in every five adolescents do not experience the enjoyment and social, physical, and mental health benefits of regular physical activity,” Dr Bull said.  

“Policy makers and stakeholders should be encouraged to act now for the health of this and future young generations.”

Girls in particular aren't doing enough physical activity, experts say [Photo: Getty]

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The news comes after it was revealed children become less physically active as they move through primary school.

The research, funded by British Heart Foundation and led by scientists at the University of Bristol, revealed that by age 11, children are doing more than an hour less of physical activity a week than they were at age 6.  

This study found that 61% of children in Year 1 did at least an hour of MVPA per day, but by Year 6, that had dropped to just 41%.

Again the results revealed that the drop in exercise was particularly steep for girls, who fell from 54 to 28% by the time they finished primary school.

They found that children lost on average more than an hour of exercise per week between the ages of six and 11. 

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Previous analysis has found that one in 25 children in England aged 10 or 11 are severely obese.

Measurements on children’s weight and height show the number of children classed as ‘severely overweight’ rose from 15,000 in reception to 22,000 by their final year of primary school.

The data was collected as part of Public Health England figures, and was analysed by The Local Government Association (LGA).

In a bid to help combat the problem, Public Health England encouraged parents to count the calories in their child’s snacks.

But it isn’t just children who need to up their physical activity.

Research earlier this year found that more than half of UK parents had concerns about how they would keep up with the children over the six-week holidays.

The news came after a study found that almost half of UK women aren’t getting enough exercise.