Over 90% of children in Northern Ireland aren’t doing nearly enough physical activity, according to a worrying new study

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New research into child activity rates reveals parents in Northern Ireland are unaware of how much activity their child should be doing to stay healthy

Almost all school children in Northern Ireland are not doing enough physical activity, according to a new study. The new research into child activity rates in Northern Ireland has found that 93% of children are doing no more than four hours of out of school exercise each week.

The survey of over 2,000 parents across the UK, funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Northern Ireland, Diabetes UK Northern Ireland and Tesco, also revealed that very few parents in Northern Ireland know how much activity their children should be doing, with 70% admitting that they don’t know what the recommended guidelines are. More than half of parents (55%) underestimate the amount of exercise their child needs, believing they only need around 30 minutes a day.

According to a report on physical activity from the four home countries’ Chief Medical officers “all children and young people {aged 5 to 18} should engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes and up to several hours every day”2. A third of parents (36%) say their child does no more than an hour a week, with a quarter (25%) saying they do none at all, putting them at increased risk of being overweight and developing serious long term health conditions in the future, such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Parents stated that a lack of free/cheap facilities is the biggest barrier to their children doing more exercise outside of school. Parents also highlight that they would most like to take children martial arts (36%), swimming (17%) and to athletics (13%) if they could afford to. A quarter of parents believe the responsibility to ensure children get enough exercise lies with their children’s school.

Catherine Kelly, Director of Prevention, Survival & Support at the British Heart Foundation, explains; “Being inactive can lead to a multitude of health problems for children, including an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in later life. The benefits of physical activity outside of the classroom and within the community are vast, and as well as benefitting their heart health, it’s fun too!

“That’s why we are working with Diabetes UK Northern Ireland and Tesco to deliver projects in areas most at need across the UK, helping communities to get active, lower their risk of developing these conditions and ultimately benefit the health of children in the future.”

The first of these Partnership funded projects includes Beat the Street, launching in East London today (23 September). Over the next eight weeks, 30,000 families will take part in a real-life game where they will collectively walk, cycle or run the equivalent distance of going to outer space. By getting children inspired to take up the challenge of going on a race to space, the free Beat the Street game will increase their level of physical activity so it becomes an everyday pattern of behaviour to take into the future.

Jenna Hall, Programme Director for the National Charity Partnership, explains: “East London is the first of 15 areas where the Partnership will be running mass participation community projects and will encourage at least 200,000 people to get active in its first year. These projects will be run in areas that have a high prevalence of Type 2 diabetes, high mortality rates from cardiovascular disease, high levels of obesity and low levels of activity rates.”

The National charity Partnership between Diabetes UK Northern Ireland, BHF Northern Ireland and Tesco was announced earlier this year. Its aim is to help save lives, by helping millions of people to eat better and get active, reducing their risk of serious ill-health in the future. This will help reduce people’s risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, both of which are largely preventable through healthy lifestyle choices. Through the money raised by Tesco colleagues and customers, the partnership will deliver a variety of preventative and informative initiatives.

For more information about the National Charity Partnership visit www.tescocharitypartnership.org.uk.