On Thursday 8 December, Sport England released their latest Active Lives Children and Young People data set for 2021-22 which revealed that, encouragingly, young people’s activity levels overall have recovered to pre-pandemic levels. However, with still less than 50% of children meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines of taking part in an average of 60 minutes or more of sport and physical activity a day, more must be done. Read our take on this national crisis, and the role of school sport and play by clicking below.
Calls for focus on school sport to stop the prevailing mental health crisis among young people
Research released by Sport England shows that whilst improvements are being made in the activity levels of children, it cannot be ignored that less than half are meeting the minimum levels required to help stave off physical and mental health challenges today and in their future.
Key report findings:
- Whilst children’s activity levels have recovered to pre pandemic levels, still less than half of children (47.2%) are active for the Chief Medical Officer’s recommended daily amount of 60 minutes a day. And 2.2 million children fall well below that level and are active for less than 30 minutes
- There are clear linkages between activity levels and mental wellbeing. A child who is more active is likely to report higher levels of happiness and resilience
- Inequality is still a key factor in whether a child will be active, with 42% of children from low-income families meeting recommended daily levels versus 52% of children from high income families. Children in low-income families are also 2/3 times more likely to develop mental health problems than those in the highest*
Responding to the findings, Youth Sport Trust Chief Executive Ali Oliver MBE, said:
“Whilst we are now clearer than ever on the linkages between an active life and positive mental health outcomes, we are yet to see society fully capitalise on these benefits and the focus of investment remains on cure rather than prevention.
“Last week NHS digital released new data which found that in 2022, 18% of children aged 7 to 16 years and 22% of young people aged 17 to 24 years had a probable mental disorder**. We can no longer afford to rely on the same methods for tackling this crisis.
“This new report from Sport England shows that physically literate children and young people are happier and more resilient than non-physically literate peers. In addition, there’s a positive association between levels of sport and physical activity and levels of loneliness, with 10% of active children claiming to often or always feel lonely compared to 12% of non-active children.
“The data also shows that there has been a rise in young people exercising to relax and worry less (up 1.2%), and socially for fun with friends (up 2.1%).
“With the cost-of-living crisis rendering lots of activity beyond the school day inaccessible to those in the most disadvantaged areas, and with more children being active in school (44.8% of children active in school for at least 30 mins a day against 39.5% pre pandemic) we are calling on government to recognise the power of school sport to tackle the mental health crisis and reach those underserved communities of young people which are most likely to be affected.
“I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to the School Games Organisers, teachers, parents and others who have helped build back opportunities for children to be active and play sport.”
Youth Sport Trust reported that they would like to see the government;
- Recognise the power of PE, play and sport as a fundamental driver of improved mental health and wellbeing in policy and practise
- Achieve a greater return on the investment of the PE and school sport premium by targeting the premium more strategically to tackle the deepest societal, health and education inequalities
- Increase the strategic purpose and impact of the national network of publicly funded, locally embedded School Games Organisers, driving an updated School Sport and Activity Action Plan which simplifies and joins up funding streams and programmes at a local level such as the Primary PE & Sport Premium, School Games, the Holiday Activity and Food (HAF) programme and Opening School Facilities