D grade for youths’ physical activity

Ireland has scored a D grade for physical activity in children, a slight improvement on just scraping a pass two years previously.

It was ranked in the middle of 38 countries presenting their report cards at the International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health in Bangkok, Thailand, yesterday.

Ireland’s grade for physical activity in children compares with Slovenia’s A-, New Zealand’s B-, and Scotland’s F. England and Wales had both scored a D-.

Ten physical activity barometers were examined, including participation in organised sport, watching television, and walking to school.

Also assessed was how the home, school, government, and wider community supported children in being active.

Ireland’s D grade reflected data from five large studies across the island showing that around 25% of young people are active for at least an hour every day.

The report card was developed by 12 researchers throughout Ireland, together with interested groups.

The group was led by Dr Deirdre Harrington from West Cork, a lecturer in physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and health at the University of Leicester in England.

“There is no doubt that there is more awareness of the importance of being active which we anticipate is translating into a little more action,” said Dr Harrington.

“Equally, from a research point of view, the quality of the data that have been collected on this occasion was more robust, so the team was happy to increase the grade.”

Dr Harrington said some “encouraging steps” have been taken by the Government since 2014, and referred to the launch last January of the first national physical activity plan.

Dr Harrington said it is an ambitious plan that is likely to have a positive impact on grades in the future — if fully implemented.

While Ireland increased its grade for overall physical activity levels, there was no change in six of the ten indicators.

Ireland raised its grade from a B to a B+ for the community and built environment, which is based on how parents and teenagers perceive the quality of local facilities and safety of their neighbourhoods.

The “school” setting was given a D grade, a drop from the D-plus+ it got in 2014, as less than 40% of children receive the amount of the Government-recommended physical education.

There was a C- grade for “sedentary behaviours” with half of children watching too much television.

There was no change in the D grade for “active transportation” because just one in four children walk or cycle to school every day.

Northern Ireland’s principal investigator, Prof Marie Murphy, said there had been a small but notable increase in organised sports participation by children in the North, from a C- grade to a C+.

However, Prof Murphy, who lectures in exercise and health at Ulster University, said overall physical activity levels remain low, with more than half of children still not sufficiently active on a daily basis.

“That is the case for the whole island of Ireland,” she said.

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