Sport England’s annual Active Lives Children and Young People survey, released mid-January 2021, provides essential insights into the sport and physical activity levels and behaviours of children (aged 5-16) across England from September 2019 to July 2020. A complementary second report was also released, with a special analytical focus on COVID-19 and the summer term (May to July 2020), when pandemic restrictions across England eased. This specific period was chosen given the impossibility to collect data throughout the first lockdown, spanning from March to early May 2020.
Less than half of children (44.9%) meet the recommended daily 60 minutes of sport and physical activity, representing a decrease of 1.9% in comparison to the same period last year. The drop can notably be explained by spring pandemic restrictions and last winter’s storms, since Autumn 2019 showed an encouraging raise in activity levels.
The most notable findings of the second survey, focusing on the coronavirus impacts, show sport activities (mainly swimming and team sports) were most hardly hit with a participation drop of 16%. The target group appears to have adapted their activities to fitness, cycling and walking, which have all recorded encouraging participation gains. A closer look however is necessary to understand the positive and negative trends these changes account for.
Indeed, girls appear to have better adapted to the pandemic than boys, with an increase in participation of 2.4% over last summer (in comparison to the same period the year before) as they adopted fitness and walking, for example. On the other hand, boys recorded a notable drop in activity levels due to the restrictions on team sports- their preferred activities.
Gender differences are further increased when looking at ethnicity. The gender gap in activity levels is broadest among children with Black and Asian heritage, where boys are most likely to be active. Additionally, the overall decreases in physical activity levels are primarily driven by Black and Asian children.
Concerns about drops in physical literacy are equally noteworthy for the near future as they could entail long-term consequences over children and young people’s attitude and motivation towards sport and physical activity.
Finally, 31% of all children in England have not been able to meet 30 minutes of daily activity, representing a concerning increase of 2.4% compared to the same period the year before.
Shortly following the publication of these surveys, Sport England revealed its inclusive 10-year strategy Uniting the Movement that seeks to enable individuals to lead healthier and happier lives. Fighting obesity and increasing fitness levels figure among the main objectives, while the strategy itself is articulated around tackling inequalities so as to make access and inclusion to sport and physical activities equal opportunities for all, with specific attention and solution provided for certain people: those with a disability, from a lower socioeconomic background, with a Black or Asian background, and for girls and women at large.