Black children are the least likely to be physically active, according to Sport England, which found the pandemic is continuing to have a negative effect on children’s engagement with sport and physical activity.
In its latest survey of activity levels among children and young people, 36% of black boys met healthy guidelines for physical activity, compared with 45% of all boys. This was mainly because they were twice as likely to come from less affluent families living in deprived areas with less access to outdoor space, the report said.
For the first time, boys’ activity levels overall dropped to the point where they were in line with girls’, mainly as a consequence of restrictions to organised sport due to Covid. There were, however, faint signs of improved participation among girls, who may have preferred going for a lockdown walk rather than participating in organised school sport.
Overall there was no change to activity levels compared with last year’s data, which already reflected the damaging impact of Covid, but existing inequalities in participation have widened and overall there were 94,000 fewer active children and young people in England in 2020-21 compared with before the pandemic.
“Across the year as a whole, activity levels have fallen compared to pre-pandemic (2018-19) for children and young people from the least affluent families (down 3.4%), while remaining unchanged for those from the most affluent families – widening the gap between the two,” the report states.
The Active Lives Children and Young People Survey found that 44.6% of 5- to 16-year-olds (3.2 million) met the chief medical officer’s recommended guidelines of taking part in sport and physical activity for an average of 60 minutes or more every day, but 32.4% (2.3 million) do less than 30 minutes.
Different age groups have fared differently. Activity levels among 5- to 7-year-olds have recovered to levels seen two years ago, and remain down among 7- to 11-year-olds after a decline at the start of the pandemic, but have fallen further among secondary-age children compared with 12 months ago.
Responding to the findings, Youth Sport Trust’s chief executive, Ali Oliver, said: “It is incredibly sad that millions of young people in England are missing out on the fundamental role that physical activity should play in their education and development.
“In the face of a global physical and mental health crisis, we are worried that this is still not being treated as a core priority of our national recovery. From families and schools through to sports organisations and government, a concerted national effort is now needed to get young people active.”