Increasing Physical Activity in Childhood

The Challenge

Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of premature death across the world.  In the UK it causes about 1 in 6 premature deaths and costs the NHS approximately £8.2 billion a year.  There are high levels of inactivity across all age groups in the UK (and globally) and this is a major public health concern.

We have developed new, reliable ways to measure activity in infants and toddlers:

  • Over 1,500 parents answered new questionnaires about the amounts and types of physical activities and sedentary behaviours their infants and toddlers do.
  • We measure physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children by using sensors that they wear on their bodies (strapped to their waist or thigh).

We found that there was a big change between pre-school children and children at age 9-10:

  • 96% of pre-school children met the government’s recommendation of180 minutes of any intensity physical activity each day.
  • 36% of 9-10 year-olds met the recommendation of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day and they spent 70% of their time sitting down each day.

We have designed and are testing new programmes to increase activity:

  • Encouraging healthy eating and physical activity in pregnant women, new mums and their infants (this is called the HAPPY programme)
  • Encouraging parents and their pre-school children to play outdoors and be active together (The Pre-schoolers in the Playground (PiP) programme)
  • Putting desks in primary school classrooms where children can stand to reduce the amount of time children spend being sedentary while at school
  • Redesigning Nursery and Reception classes outdoor activities to increase moderate and vigorous physical activity and improve movement skills

Our future plans

We plan to carry out in-depth evaluations of the programmes that we have already designed to see how effective they are and whether the potential health benefits outweigh the financial cost to the NHS and social services.

Sally Barber

Sally Barber is a Principal Research Fellow on the Born in Bradford project. Sally's interests are physical activity for health, sedentary behaviour and childhood obesity prevention.

Her main research focuses on understanding the determinants of physical activity in pre-school children, developing and evaluating interventions to promote childhood physical activity and prevent childhood obesity. She is Co-PI and Trial Manager for an NIHR Public Health grant "Pre-schoolers in the playground" and works on an NIHR programme grant for obesity prevention in children: BiB 1000.

Sally is also the Theme Manager for the Healthy Children, Healthy Families theme of CLAHRC YH.