How active are children and young people (and will they tell us)?

Dr Margaret Blake blogs on the Active Lives Children and Young People survey. She covers how the survey for Sport England was designed and how important the findings are for addressing key questions about children and young people.

The author(s)

  • Dr. Margaret Blake Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
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In December 2015, I woke up to hear the announcement of the Government’s new strategy ‘Sporting Future: A new strategy for an Active Nation’ on the Today programme.  One of the key objectives of this was to broaden Sport England’s remit to responsibility for sport outside school from the age of five years, rather than 14 years as previously.  As part of the team at Ipsos MORI developing the new Active Lives Survey questionnaire for adults at that time, my first concern was how Sport England could possibly design a questionnaire to collect information on sports and activity participation from five-year-olds.  Measuring participation in physical activity in adults is challenging enough!

Three years on, I am very excited that the results from the first year of the Active Lives Children and Young People survey have been published and that, alongside colleagues at Ipsos MORI, I have been fortunate enough to be involved in the survey design and data collection. Through a review of existing questionnaires and focus groups with pupils aged 5-15 years and their parents and teachers, we have successfully designed an age-appropriate set of online questionnaires to collect the information Sport England needed. What we achieved was interesting and engaging to children and young people. A real highlight was visiting schools, where we talked to young people about sport and exercise, and tested out the questionnaires. By using images and an audio option to read out the questions, we created a questionnaire suitable for data collection from five-year-olds. 

We would like to thank over 2,000 schools and 130,000 pupils and parents who participated in the survey in year 1. Sport England’s report addresses important questions such as:

  • How many children and young people meet the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines for physical activity?
  • Which sports are most popular among different age groups?
  • Do pupils get more exercise in or out of school?
  • Which groups of young people are less engaged in sport and activity?
  • How do children’s levels of activity vary across the country?

As a parent and Scout helper, I see first-hand the value of sport and activity for young people.  Alongside positive benefits for their physical health, sport and activity create opportunities to be outside, to make new friends and to face and overcome challenges.  This is an important foundation for young people to set attitudes and habits for an active life in adulthood.

I would encourage anyone with an interest in or responsibility for young people to look at the report and consider applications for its findings.  With a third of children doing less than 30 minutes of activity a day, there is much that could be done to increase the participation of children and young people in sport and physical activity.

The author(s)

  • Dr. Margaret Blake Ipsos Public Affairs, UK

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