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A global study of more than a million adolescents worldwide, warns that young people are risking their health by being inactive and concerning trend emerging that girls are less active than boys
THE majority of young people worldwide are not getting enough physical activity putting their current and future health at risk, with girls in Ireland at an increased risk compared to boys, a major new global study has found.
The study by researchers from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which examined data on physical activity levels of 1.6 million 11 to 17 year olds across 146 countries worldwide between 2001 and 2016, found that more than 80 per cent of young people worldwide did not meet current recommendations of at least one hour of physical activity a day- including 85 per cent of girls and 78 per cent of boys.
The assessment included all types of physical activity, such as time spent in active play, recreation and sports, active domestic chores, walking and cycling or other types of active transportation, physical education and planned exercise.
According to the data in Ireland, 75.4 per cent of 11 to 17-year olds were insufficiently active in 2001, this compares to 75.7 in the US and 80.6 in the UK.
By 2016, the percentage of adolescents in Ireland who did not meet the recommended levels of physical activity had decreased to 71.8 per cent compared to 72 per cent in the US and 79.9 per cent in the UK.
Overall the study which is the first of its kind and is published in the medical journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, showed that boys were more likely than girls to reach the recommended levels of physical activity and this gap has grown between 2001 and 2016 with rates of physical inactivity remaining similar for girls, while they have improved slightly for boys.
" In the Irish Heart Foundation, we are addressing this need through our school’s physical activity programmes: Action for Life and Y-PATH ‘PE 4 ME’ which increases motivation, confidence and competence within physical activity.”
Ireland was one of two countries with the largest gap where the difference in the proportion of boys and girls meeting the recommendations was greater than 15 per cent, the US being the other.
According to the data, in Ireland in 2016, 80.5 per cent of girls did not meet the recommended levels of physical activity compared to 63.5 per cent of boys.
Across all 146 countries studied between 2001-2016 girls were less active than boys in all but four (Tonga, Samoa, Afghanistan and Zambia).
Globally, the prevalence of insufficient physical activity slightly decreased in boys between 2001 and 2016 (from 80% to 78%), but there was no change over time in girls (remaining around 85%).
In Ireland in 2001 80.6 per cent of girls aged 11 to 17 were insufficiently active and this remained more or less the same in 2016 at 80.5 per cent. While for boys in Ireland, 70.5 per cent did not meet the recommended levels of physical activity in 2001 and this decreased to 63.5 per cent in 2016, meaning that over the intervening 15 years, boys increased their levels of physical activity, but girls did not.
Ireland was one of a number of countries which showed the greatest decreases in boys being insufficiently active along with Bangladesh ( 73% to 63%), Singapore (78% to 70%), Thailand (78% to 70%), Benin (79% to 71%),and the USA (71% to 64%). However, the same cannot be said for girls in Ireland which as mentioned above, the percentage meeting the recommended levels of physical activity decreased from 80.6 to just 80.5 per cent.
Commenting on the research Laura Hickey, Children and Young People Manager with the Irish Heart Foundation said, “The consequences of physical inactivity for the current and future health of this generation are grave; physical inactivity is a significant risk factor not just for cardiovascular disease but also for a wide range of chronic diseases.”
“We need to act now and address this. In the Irish Heart Foundation, we are addressing this need through our school’s physical activity programmes: Action for Life and Y-PATH ‘PE 4 ME’ which increases motivation, confidence and competence within physical activity.”
“Our post-primary school programme is proven to stop the age-related decline we see in adolescents. We know that schools who partake maintain the levels of physical activity, in comparison we see an 11 per cent decline in schools who have not used the programme. Physical activity must remain a priority at a policy and societal level in these critical years of development,” Laura added.
“ Urgent policy action to increase physical activity is needed now, particularly to promote and retain girls’ participation in physical activity,”
The authors of the study stated that levels of insufficient physical activity in adolescents continue to be extremely high, compromising their current and future health.
“Urgent policy action to increase physical activity is needed now, particularly to promote and retain girls’ participation in physical activity,” said study author Dr Regina Guthold, WHO.
The health benefits of a physically active lifestyle during adolescence include improved cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, bone and cardiometabolic health, and positive effects on weight. There is also growing evidence that physical activity has a positive impact on cognitive development and socialising. Current evidence suggests that many of these benefits continue into adulthood.
To achieve these benefits, the WHO recommends for adolescents to do moderate or vigorous physical activity for an hour or more each day.
“The study highlights that young people have the right to play and should be provided with the opportunities to realise their right to physical and mental health and wellbeing,” said co-author Dr Fiona Bull, WHO.
“Strong political will and action can address the fact that four in every five adolescents do not experience the enjoyment and social, physical, and mental health benefits of regular physical activity. Policy makers and stakeholders should be encouraged to act now for the health of this and future young generations.”
“The trend of girls being less active than boys is concerning,” said study co-author Dr Leanne Riley, WHO. “More opportunities to meet the needs and interests of girls are needed to attract and sustain their participation in physical activity through adolescence and into adulthood.”
This study was published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal. Published online November 21, 2019 https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(19)30323-2
For more information on the Irish Heart Foundation’s Youth Physical Activity Towards Health (Y-PATH PE 4 ME), a unique programme aimed at improving the physical activity levels of children and young people in Ireland please see here
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