Widening inequalities in Scottish children’s physical activity

Published 30th November 2021

Deprivation-based inequalities in physical activity between Scotland’s children were already growing before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research.

The study, led by the University of Strathclyde, and involving Dr Avril Johnstone from the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, has found that children from more deprived families were nearly three times more likely not to be involved in sport than those from less deprived families. They were also more than twice as likely to have obesity by the time they were in P1 and nearly less than a quarter likely to have safe outdoor spaces to play in.

Adults from more deprived families were also less than half as likely to volunteer in sport than those from less deprived families.

The study covers 2019 – the most recent year for which data is available – and indicates an overall decline in physical activity by Scottish children. It does not forecast the impact which the COVID-19 pandemic may have had on the issue in Scotland but observes that it has had a “devastating impact” on levels of child physical activity and physical fitness in some other countries.

Overall, the 2021 Active Healthy Kids Scotland Report Card showed that fewer than 20% of children were meeting guidelines for screen time and fewer than half took part in active transportation, such as walking or cycling.

However, the research also discovered that around two-thirds of children had access to safe local outdoor spaces and a similar level took part in organised sport and physical activity.

The survey makes its assessments based on 11 indicators, including screen time, active play, physical fitness, diet, obesity and government policy. The researchers have called for government to ensure its policies – which they believe are generally very good on physical activity - are implemented.

The study also involved the Universities of Stirling and Aberdeen, and Robert Gordon University.

First published: 30 November 2021

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