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20 March 2017

Nine out of 10 children do not get enough exercise

Charity calls for additional funding from Sugar Tax to increase levels of walking and cycling on the school journey

Nine out of 10 children in the UK, including Northern Ireland, are not getting the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day, new figures show.

A YouGov poll, carried out on behalf of Sustrans, the UK walking and cycling charity, surveyed 1,370 parents of five to 16-year-olds about their children’s daily levels of physical activity.

About one in five (19%) of those surveyed said their child took part in 60 minutes of physical activity a day twice a week, while 13 per cent said their children did so once a week or less.

According to government guidelines, children and young people aged five to 18 need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day “to maintain a basic level of health”.

The survey also found:

Thirteen of the respondents were concerned their child was overweight, with nine percent saying in the past two years they had either been, or had thought about going, to see a healthcare practitioner about their child being overweight.

The number of children cycling to and from school remains stubbornly low at two percent.
More than one in three (35%) of children now travel to school by car, while 12% of the parents surveyed said they had travelled to school by car as a child.
Walking, scooting or cycling to school would help children get their recommended hour of physical activity a day and maintain a healthy weight.

Parents, however, have cited the need for improved infrastructure, such as wider pavements and better crossings, and enhanced road safety among their top priorities before allowing their child to walk, scoot or cycle to school.

Sustrans is calling on government to use the money from a new levy on soft drinks, known as the Sugar Tax, to help more children walk, scoot and cycle the school journey.

Beth Harding, Sustrans Active School Travel Programme Manager, said: “More than half of primary school pupils in Northern Ireland live less than a mile from school - a distance that can be walked, scooted or cycled as an easy way of building more physical activity into our busy lives.

“We would like a future Northern Ireland Assembly to consider using some of the funding derived from the sugar tax to invest in on-road cycle training for school-children. We also need to see government invest in safer and better infrastructure if we want more children to walk, scoot or cycle to school.”

Ashley Cooper, Professor of Physical Activity and Public Health at the University of Bristol, said: “Sadly, it isn’t a surprise to see low numbers of children in the UK meeting the physical activity guidelines. These findings point out however that some parents are recognising the impact of sedentary lifestyle on their children and we need to build on this awareness.

“Walking or cycling to and from school contributes up to a third of children's moderate to vigorous physical activity, helping them to meet health guidelines, and children who cycle to school are fitter and healthier than those who don't.”

The survey has been released to launch The Big Pedal 2017, the UK’s biggest challenge event to get more young people cycling and scooting to school.

The Big Pedal 2017, which runs from Monday 20 to Friday 31 March, will see more than 1,560 schools across the UK leave their cars at home and get on their bikes and scooters for their journeys to and from school. In Northern Ireland 143 schools, a record number, are taking part this year.

For more information about Sustrans, visit

Or to follow the schools progress go to

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