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New ‘report card’ raises concerns over health and wellbeing of children in Wales

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A ‘Report Card’ on the overall levels of physical activity of children and young people has assigned Wales a grade F – and raises concerns that this could have long-term implications for their health and well-being

The 2021 Active Healthy Kids (AHK) Wales Report Card grades children and young people’s physical activity across eleven quality indicators through expert consensus and synthesis of the best available evidence from pre-COVID-19 data.

It found that in Wales only half of children and young people aged 3–17 years meet the recommended level of at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day of the week.

Furthermore only 13–17% of children aged 11–16 years achieve the recommended amount leaving Wales with some of the poorest levels of physical activity and time spent in inactivity, globally.

The previous AHK-Wales Report Card in 2018, found that only 9 countries globally scored lower than Wales. Now grades have further reduced, with all but three grades remaining the same or decreasing and once the physical activity data for other countries becomes available, a comparison with Wales will be carried out. As in Wales, grades are likely to have deteriorated due to the restrictions placed on children’s physical activity during the pandemic.

The 2021 Active Healthy Kids (AHK) Wales Report Card is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public HealthIt is the fourth version, following reports in 2014, 2016 and 2018 produced as part of the Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance (AHKGA) – a network of researchers and health professionals from over 60 countries aiming to improve children and young people’s physical activity across the world.

The research for the Report Card was carried out by a team led by Swansea University with the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff University, Edge Hill University, Play Wales, Sustrans, National Dance Company of Wales and Sport Wales. Like most other countries in the Global Alliance the AHK-Wales research team used pre-COVID-19 data for the 2021 report card but are now preparing to analyse COVID-19 physical activity data in the coming months.

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Lead author of the report, Amie Richards of Swansea University’s Applied Sports, Technology, Exercise and Medicine (A-STEM) Research Centre said: “This Report Card is a cause for concern for the future health and wellbeing of people in Wales, particularly as there is now compelling evidence that physical activity has further decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope that the results from this Report Card will be used to inform the decision making of policy makers, practitioners and educators to improve children and young people’s physical activity levels and opportunities and decrease PA inequalities.”

Marianne Mannello, Assistant Director, Policy, Support and Advocacy of Play Wales said: “Playing has positive impacts on important long-term health outcomes including increased physical activity, improving wellbeing in children, and helping to develop resilience.  Of equal importance is the immediate enjoyment playing brings to children and their families. 

“The data for the Active Play Indicator shows that children continue to ask for better places to play outdoors and report similar barriers to play year on year.  It is vital that we listen to children’s views and remove the barriers to play.  This will help them support their own wellbeing, experiencing a happy and healthy childhood.”

Amie Richards said: “There are many actions that families can take to improve the physical activity of children, to build back better and stronger after the COVID-19 pandemic and explore the wonderful natural environment that Wales has to offer all its communities.”

Commenting on the news, Welsh Conservative Shadow Sport Minister, Tom Giffard MS said: “The Labour Government’s neglect of grassroots sport organisations is to blame for the more sedentary lifestyles we are seeing in Wales’ young people. Labour’s new curriculum is nowhere near ambitious enough for PE or sport provision either.

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“Welsh Conservatives favour a more targeted approach to improve community sport access in Wales. Labour’s latest initiative to provide up to £500,000 to a few select groups, with only 11 days to apply, will only favour large, established organisations.

“Labour would much rather spend £100 million on more politicians in Cardiff Bay than address this worrying trend towards a sedentary Wales”.

Grades were assigned as follows:

  • Overall physical activity: F
  • Organised Sport and physical activity: C
  • Active Play: C+
  • Active Transportation: C−
  • Sedentary Behaviours: F
  • Physical Fitness: C−
  • Family and Peer Influences: D+
  • School: B−
  • Community and the Built Environment: C
  • National Government and Policy: C
  • Physical Literacy: C−
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