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NICE aims to get children and young people more active

Obesity rates among children and young people are at record levels. Keeping physically active is one way to help prevent them getting overweight. Yet the lure of computer games and television - and the fear of letting them go outside to play - means more of them are spending less time being physically active.

The government recommends that all children and young people should be physically active for a minimum of at least 60 minutes or more on 7 days a week. According to a national survey, 63% of girls and 72% of boys aged 11 say they are this active. However, other, more objective studies (ones that don't rely on self-reporting) suggest these figures are much lower. At 15, 47% of girls and 66% of boys say they are this active (but again, in reality, the figures are probably much lower).

Even the number walking and cycling to school is relatively small. In 2006, just over half of those aged under 10 and less than 50% of those aged 11-16 walked to school. Only 3% of all under-16s cycled there.

Yet physical activity is important for children and young people's healthy growth and development - as well as helping to prevent a range of long-term medical conditions, including obesity.

As our guidance, ‘Promoting physical activity for children and young people', points out, even if they were only walking, cycling or climbing stairs as part of their everyday life, they would be more fit and healthy.

The guidance, which was published in January, also advises all those who are responsible for children and young people to encourage them to get involved in a number of different types of activity. These could range from active play and other physically demanding activities, such as dancing, swimming or skateboarding, to competitive sport and formal exercise.

“Obesity rates in this country are rocketing and, with the number of children not taking part in physical activity increasing, this problem can only get worse,” said Professor Mike Kelly, Public Health Excellence Centre Director.

“Children are walking less, cycling less, watching more TV. It's important that we let children play - and don't let society's aversion to risk stop young people from being physically active. Fresh air and a few bumps and bruises are good for you.”

Dealing with the long-term consequences of obesity costs an estimated £2.5 billion each year, placing a huge strain on the health service, he added. The total cost of physical inactivity in England is even higher - at £8.2 billion annually. (This includes the cost of treating chronic health problems such as coronary heart disease and diabetes.) It is also estimated to cause 54,000 premature deaths a year.

Our recommendations cover everything from high level strategic planning to practical issues such as how to encourage participation and planning and providing the spaces, facilities and opportunities.

For details go to www.nice.org.uk/PH17

Issued: 2 March 2009

This page was last updated: 11 May 2010

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Accessibility | Cymraeg | Freedom of information | Vision Impaired | Contact Us | Glossary | Data protection | Copyright | Disclaimer | Terms and conditions

Copyright 2014 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. All rights reserved.