People walking

As new data on children’s activity levels are published, our Policy and Research Assistant, Holly Barden analyses the results and discusses why walking is a key activity for improving the health of our youngest generation.

holly barden

More children are physically active, but social inequalities remain. More must be done to close the gap in activity levels that exist between different socioeconomic groups, genders and races.

Last week, a study came out which detailed the dramatic drop in children’s physical activity levels between the ages of 6-11. A recent World Health Organisation report also found that in the UK, 80% of adolescents aged 11-17 were classified insufficiently active.

So, here at Living Streets we welcomed the more positive news published in the Active Lives Children Survey (yesterday) which showed that although there are spikes and downturns in the amount of exercise children undertake throughout their younger years, overall their activity levels are on the rise.

We were particularly pleased to see that amongst the activities driving this rise was walking. Outside of school, for example, the number of children who walked ‘to school or other places’, rose to 39.3%, a 4.1% increase from last year. This is the aim of our behaviour-change projects in schools and wider campaigning to improve our streets.

family walking
manifesto picture

Our Walking Manifesto

Our five-point Manifesto for Walking outlines, step by step, how walking is vital to answering so many major issues facing the UK as it heads to the polls on 12 December, from public health crises of obesity and inactivity, boosting the vibrancy of our public spaces, and improving air quality.

Read our walking manifesto

The largest study of its kind, based on responses from 130,000 children aged 5-16, the report gives a highly robust account of children’s exercise and volunteering habits, as well as measuring their attitudes towards sport in general.

Yet despite the positive news, there is still a long way to go. Because although activity levels are on the up overall, as the Active Lives Adult Survey also demonstrated to us in October, significant and unacceptable inequalities remain in activity levels in the areas of family affluence, race and gender. For example, 42% of children in the ‘low affluence’ group were classified as active, compared to 54% of those in the ‘high affluence’ group. Asian and black children were also significantly more likely to be less active than their white counterparts.

We need to do more to tackle these inequalities – and walking can help us do it. Walking is a free, low-impact form of exercise that can be incorporated into our daily routines with ease. And open to anyone and everyone, walking is also highly accessible – time, money and resource constraints and ability or confidence concerns, for example, are unlikely to stand in the way of someone walking more.

In children, walking has been proven to enhance mood, help to maintain a healthy weight, and boost cognitive development. That’s why here, at Living Streets, we believe walking –particularly to school – is the most convenient and socially equitable way for young people to meet physical activity guidelines. This year, we have worked with thousands of schools across the country through our flagship WOW programme to get an extra 23,000 children walking to school, ensuring more and more children are able to enjoy the benefits it brings.

No doubt it's great news that physical activity levels amongst children are on the rise. Yet, over half of children in the UK are still not meeting physical activity guidelines. For some social groups, the rate is even higher. We must do better. And with just under a week to go until the general election, now more than ever, it is crucial that the next government enacts our manifesto calls to transform routes to school, and reaffirms its commitment to getting 55% of primary pupils walking to school by 2025. More must be done to ensure that all children, no matter their socioeconomic background, race, or gender, can enjoy the benefits that exercise can bring.

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