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The physical activity profile of active children in England

Sarah Payne1*, Nick Townsend2 and Charlie Foster2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

2 British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group, Department of Public Health, University of Oxford, Old Road, Headington, Oxford OX3 7LF, UK

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:136  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-136

Published: 16 December 2013



In line with WHO guidelines, the UK government currently recommends that school-aged children participate in at least 60 minutes, and up to several hours, of at least moderate physical activity on a daily basis. A recent health survey indicates that the amount of reported physical activity varies by age, gender and socioeconomic status. The objective of this study is to identify what types of activity contribute most towards overall physical activity in children who achieve the UK physical activity recommendations; and how this varies according to age, gender and socioeconomic status.


Self-reported physical activity was captured through the Health Survey for England 2008, a nationally representative, cross-sectional survey. We analysed data from 1,110 children aged 5–15 years who reported meeting the UK physical activity recommendations. The proportions of total physical activity achieved in various domains of activity were calculated and associations with age, gender and socioeconomic status were examined.


Active play was the largest contributor to overall physical activity (boys = 48%, girls = 53%), followed by walking (boys = 17%, girls = 23%). Active school travel contributed only a small proportion (6% for boys and girls). With increasing age, the contribution from active play decreased (rho = -0.417; p < 0.001) and the contribution of walking (rho = 0.257; p < 0.001) and formal sport (rho = 0.219; p < 0.001) increased. At all ages, sport contributed more among boys than girls. Sport contributed proportionately less with increasing deprivation (rho = -0.191; p < 0.001).


The contributors to overall physical activity among active children varies with age, socioeconomic status and gender. This knowledge can be used to target interventions appropriately to increase physical activity in children at a population level.

‘Physical activity’; England; Children ‘Active play’; Walking; Sport; Contributors; ‘Socioeconomic status’