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Health warning as survey shows four out of five Northern Ireland children don't get enough exercise

Some 79.9% of children aged 11-17 in the UK get insufficient exercise. In the Republic the figure drops to 71.8%
Some 79.9% of children aged 11-17 in the UK get insufficient exercise. In the Republic the figure drops to 71.8%
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

A Northern Ireland health expert has urged parents to ensure their children stop spending so much time in front of the screen and get more exercise.

It comes as a survey reveals four out of five young people do not get enough physical activity.

Some 79.9% of children aged 11-17 in the UK get insufficient exercise. In the Republic the figure drops to 71.8%.

The study focuses on the World Health Organisation's recommendation that young people get at least one hour of physical activity a day.

To put that in context, prisoners in Northern Ireland jails have the opportunity of at least one hour's exercise each day.

Colette Brolly, the Public Health Agency's lead on physical activity, said parents should be encouraging their children to move away from their televisions and games consoles.

The study, published in the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health journal, reveals that girls in the UK (85.4%) are more inactive than boys (74.7%) - a difference of 10.7%.

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Some 63.5% of Irish boys were deemed to be insufficiently active, rising to 80.5% among girls. The 17% gap in Ireland is the largest in the world along with the USA. Ms Brolly said that being physically active is very important for children and teenagers as it builds strong bones, muscles and a healthy heart, helps develop social skills and encourages a sense of well being.

"Children over the age of five years need to take part in moderate to vigorous intensity activities for at least 60 minutes every day," she continued.

"Children and teenagers should also limit the amount of time they spend sitting or lying down - except when sleeping.

"Encourage young people to reduce the amount of time in front of the TV or games consoles and get active instead. Do fun things with your kids that you will both enjoy like playing football or basketball, and games like hopscotch and skipping will also be good for strengthening their bones," she added.

"And don't forget the other simple things too that can be made part of everyday routine like walking or riding a bike to school."

Ms Brolly added that each of these small steps all add up and contribute to a healthier and happier child.

"The Public Health Agency is involved in supporting a number of programmes under the 'Making Life Better' framework to encourage young people to take part in physical activity," she said.

"These include initiatives such as the active school travel programme and the promotion of the daily mile."

The study stated in its interpretation of the findings that urgent action is required to increase the activity of adolescents through investment and leadership "at all levels".

There was a small overall drop in the amount of children insufficiently exercising between a study in 2001 and the 2016 results. In 2001, 76.2% of boys in the UK were not exercising enough and that dropped to 74.7% in 2016, however the number of girls rose by 0.2%.

The national figure dropped from 80.6% in 2001 to 79.9% in 2016.

There was a large drop in the number of Irish boys that weren't getting their daily 60 minutes of exercise between 2001 and 2016 - 70.5% down to 63.5%. The difference was not as drastic in Irish girls - 80.6% down to 80.5%.

Overall in Ireland, the number of 11-17 year olds not sufficiently exercising fell from 75.4% to 71.8%.

The data for the study was collected from 298 school-based surveys from 146 countries, territories, and areas including 1.6 million students aged 11-17 years of age.

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