Physical activity interventions should start earlier in childhood

Published 31st October 2019

New research involving the SPHSU, has found that children are spending less time being physically active, with a greater decline among girls compared with boys.

Current guidelines recommend that children engage in at least 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA), yet many children and adolescents do not meet these recommendations. MVPA is associated with significant lifelong health benefits, and is particularly important in the prevention and treatment of child and adolescent obesity.

This study aimed to determine and compare the year-to-year changes in MVPA among children and adolescents by reviewing existing studies. Studies were eligible for inclusion if they reported accelerometer-assessed MVPA (minutes/day) separately for boys and girls and had a follow-up duration of at least one year. 

52 studies representing 22,091 children and adolescents (boys=8,857; girls=13,234) were analysed.

Key findings:

  • There was a significant annual decline in MVPA across all age groups from around age 6 in girls and from age 9 among boys.
  • This is roughly equivalent to a 6 minute per day decline in MVPA per year.
  • The relative decline in MVPA affects both sexes from an early age; however, it is greater among girls (-5.3%) compared with boys (-3.4%).
  • Combining data of boys and girls, the annual declines in MVPA peaked twice across the age range; once at age 9 years and then at 13 years.
  • The percentage MVPA change per year was higher on weekends (−5.3%) compared with weekdays (−3.1%).
  • Annual declines during adolescence were similar to annual declines during childhood.

Dr Anne Martin, co-author of the study, said:

“Practitioners, policymakers, and parents should consider that in the absence of interventions, MVPA will decline year on year well before adolescence. Future research, policy or practice interventions aimed at preventing age‐related declines in MVPA need to begin earlier in childhood, continue through adolescence and include both boys and girls.”

Longitudinal changes in Moderate-to-Vigorous-Intensity Physical Activity in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis is published in Obesity Reviews.


First published: 31 October 2019

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