"Exercise has been stripped out of modern lifestyles."

Recent research which investigated activity levels across Europe found that the current generation of British children are the least active of all time. Changes need to be made to ensure inactive children do not grow into sedentary inactive adults.

  • The 4th largest cause of premature death is inactivity.
  • 1 in 6 deaths in the UK are directly caused by inactivity.
  • 1 in 5 leave primary school obese.

Inactivity is costing the NHS an alarming 20 billion per year, which causes a huge strain on our already overstretched NHS. British kid's fitness levels are plummeting; they just aren't hitting the target of 60 minutes' moderate activity per day. This isn't just a British problem however, as levels across the world are lower than what is expected. Scotland sat at the bottom of the table (with Qatar, Estonia, China and Chile) despite having the ideal outside environment for children to exercise in.

  • England and Wales scored a D- overall for children's activity levels.
  • Scotland scored a pitiful F, coming joint last on the leader boards.
  • Slovenia ranked an A grade for overall fitness levels, coming at the top of the board.

Poor fitness levels have an adverse impact on health. A shocking 1 in 10 are obese when starting primary school, and 1 in 5 leave school that way.

Reasons for plummeting fitness levels can be attributed to less encouragements from parents and role models, cuts to PE at school and the increase of technological leisure; kids are spending around 5.15 hours in front of screens (such as mobile phones, computers and televisions) following the school day.

child at laptop

Photo credit: Romrodphoto/ Shutterstock

The Global Matrix on Physical Activity

The Global Matrix on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, ranked 38 countries across 6 continents, using 9 activity indicators, including 'governmental strategies', 'sedentary behaviour', 'family/peers' and 'sport participation' to assess how active children of the 21st century are.

The research found that Slovenia came out top in the chart, gaining an A- grade in overall fitness levels (succeeding with a large majority of children and youth – 80% or above). This was followed by New Zealand. Scottish children scored an alarming F grade (succeeding with very few children and youth- 20% or below) coming at the bottom of the table along with Qatar, Estonia, China and Chile. English and Welsh children aren't faring much better, achieving D- grades.


The countries scoring the highest averages for all indicators were Slovenia, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Interestingly, lower income countries scored higher on overall physical activity, active transportation and sedentary behaviours, compared with higher income countries, but did worse for support from family and peers, community and built environment, and government strategies and investments.

England's highest score was in schools and community builds, and its lowest for organised sport participation, although some results were inconclusive. Scotland scored an F grade for sedentary behaviour, but were rewarded B grades for governmental strategies and community builds.


INC = Incomplete – inadequate information to assign a grade.

Lack of Tracking Fitness in Schools

Primary schools track pupil's maths and literacy grades, yet are failing to track children's activity levels, and there has been a call for Ofsted to rate schools in this way. At present, only 10% of schools track the fitness levels of their children.

Break and lunch times at school are a time to go outside, where children can be as active as they want. Yet, if they are disengaged and not encouraged to enjoy and see the benefits of being active, they will use this time to sit on the side observing those more fit than themselves.


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Parents have a crucial role in promoting their children to be active, and should take some level of responsibility when at home. It is important that children are encouraged by their parents to enjoy exercise and educated on the basic tenets of a healthy lifestyle and what this consists of.

Research found that children's fitness levels drops particularly over the summer holidays, when walking to school and having PE lessons is replaced with lounging around at home watching the TV and playing on the computer.