Inequalities in physical activity levels for children with disabilities, report finds.

By Maeve O'Keeffe Policy News   |   31st Aug 2022

A new report on the physical activity levels of children and teenagers in Ireland has identified a number of inequalities, despite a slight improvement since 2016.

A C minus grade has been awarded for overall physical activity levels among children and teens across Ireland in 2022, according to the Ireland North and South Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Adolescents. Although this represents a slight improvement on the D grade awarded in 2016, the researchers found that Ireland is failing to meet the benchmarks for physical activity in children with disabilities.

Commenting on the 2022 Report Card findings, Professor of Exercise and Health, Ulster University, Marie Murphy, said: “It is encouraging to see the improvement in the overall grade, which shows that children and adolescents are more physically active compared to the previous 2016 Report Card.”

The Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance was established in 2014 to create a world of healthy active children and adolescents. This report card is the third of its kind examining the physical activity of Irish children aged 6-17 years across 11 indicators, and the C minus grade in 2022 indicates that just under half of children and teens are meeting physical activity recommendations.

It is recommended that children and adolescents, aged 6-17 years, get 60 minutes on average per day of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity throughout the week.

" Almost half of Irish children are not meeting the physical activity guidelines needed for good health."

Laura Hickey, Children and Young People’s Programme Manager, The Irish Heart Foundation

Laura Hickey, Children and Young People’s Programme Manager, The Irish Heart Foundation said, “While there is some improvement in physical activity levels, almost half of Irish children are not meeting the physical activity guidelines needed for good health. Childhood is an important time for developing lifelong habits. Therefore, it’s crucial that we leave nobody behind and provide equal access for all children to participate in physical activity, whether it be in school, at home or in their community.”

This year for the first time the Report Card looked at physical activity among children and adolescents with disabilities and awarded an F grade for overall physical activity among this group, meaning fewer than 20 per cent  of children and teenagers with disabilities are meeting the physical activity recommendations. The report also found that children with disabilities required more family and peer support to be physically active compared to the general population.

Director of Policy at the Institute of Public Health Dr Helen McAvoy noted, “The findings underscore the need to respond to these inequalities to give all children and teenagers an equal opportunity to be physically active and healthy.”

The team of investigators – from Ulster University, Institute of Public Health, Dublin City University, Munster Technological University, University of Limerick, Technical University of Shannon, University College Cork, University of Strathclyde, and University of Eastern Finland – found evidence of inequalities based on disability, socio-economic status, gender, and age. The research showed that more males meet the guidelines for physical activity in childhood and adolescence than females, and that children from lower socio-economic status backgrounds meet the guidelines less often than their peers.

" Progress has been made but strategic investment is clearly needed."

Dr Helen McAvoy, Director of Policy, the Institute of Public Health

Chair of the research working group, Dr Angela Carlin from the School of Sport, Ulster University, added: “Gender inequalities were also evident with more males than females meeting physical activity guidelines, in particular in teenagers, while we also found inequalities in socioeconomic status, with children and teens from poorer backgrounds meeting guidelines less often.”

The 2022 Report Card made several recommendations, including the need to further develop policy measures to address the inequalities identified by the research. The Report Card also highlighted the need for a framework to monitor indicators related to physical activity for children and teenagers with disabilities.

Responding to the stark inequality for children and teens with a disability and those from lower socio-economic status backgrounds, Dr Helen McAvoy said, “Progress has been made but strategic investment is clearly needed to accelerate progress and extend the benefits of physical activity to all children including those living in social disadvantage and children with disability.”

Marie Murphy, Professor of Exercise and Health in Ulster University added that, “Not all children have an equal opportunity to be physically active, pointing to the need to address a range of inequalities as identified in this Report Card.”

Data obtained since the beginning of COVID-19 public health measures in March 2020 were not included in this report card but will be considered in the next edition.

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children disability disadvantaged heart health physical activity young people

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