Children in Wales have some of the 'poorest levels of physical activity' globally research finds

It's believed grades are likely to have deteriorated for Wales due to the restrictions placed on children’s physical activity during the pandemic. Credit: PA

Global research into the fitness levels of children and young people shows those in Wales are among the world's least fit.

A ‘Report Card’ on the overall levels of physical activity of children and young people has assigned Wales a grade F, raising concerns over the long-term implications for their health and well-being.

The report found that in Wales, only half of children and young people aged 3–17 years meet the recommended level of at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day of the week.

Furthermore, only 13–17% of children aged 11–16 years achieve the recommended amount, leaving Wales with some of the poorest levels of physical activity and time spent in inactivity, globally.

The previous AHK-Wales Report Card in 2018, found that only 9 countries globally scored lower than Wales.

Now grades have further reduced, with all but three grades remaining the same or decreasing. Swansea University say once the physical activity data for other countries becomes available, a comparison with Wales will be carried out.

They say grades are likely to have deteriorated for Wales due to the restrictions placed on children’s physical activity during the pandemic.

Lead author of the report, Amie Richards of Swansea University’s Applied Sports, Technology, Exercise and Medicine (A-STEM) Research Centre said: “This Report Card is a cause for concern for the future health and wellbeing of people in Wales, particularly as there is now compelling evidence that PA has further decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We hope that the results from this Report Card will be used to inform the decision making of policy makers, practitioners and educators to improve children and young people’s PA levels and opportunities and decrease PA inequalities.”

She added: “There are many actions that families can take to improve the PA of children, to build back better and stronger after the COVID-19 pandemic and explore the wonderful natural environment that Wales has to offer all its communities.”

Marianne Mannello, Assistant Director, Policy, Support and Advocacy of Play Wales said: “Playing has positive impacts on important long-term health outcomes including increased physical activity, improving wellbeing in children, and helping to develop resilience.  Of equal importance is the immediate enjoyment playing brings to children and their families. 

"The data for the Active Play Indicator shows that children continue to ask for better places to play outdoors and report similar barriers to play year on year.  It is vital that we listen to children’s views and remove the barriers to play.  This will help them support their own wellbeing, experiencing a happy and healthy childhood.”

The research for the Report Card was carried out by a team led by Swansea University with the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff University, Edge Hill University, Play Wales, Sustrans, National Dance Company of Wales and Sport Wales. Like most other countries in the Global Alliance the AHK-Wales research team used pre-COVID-19 data for the 2021 report card but are now preparing to analyse COVID-19 physical activity data in the coming months.

The Welsh Government say they will invest £24m over the next 3 years in the development of sports facilities in local communities across Wales.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said:“Through Sport Wales, we fund a range of sport and leisure activities for children and young people that are delivered by local authorities, local sports clubs, and national partners including Urdd and StreetGames.  Our Summer of Fun is also currently delivering free activities across Wales.

“Health and Well-being is a mandatory part of the new Curriculum for Wales, which will start to be introduced this September.

“Our Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales Strategy is also currently developing a Daily Active programme, to incorporate more physical activity within the school day, in addition to PE lessons.”