Eighty per cent of children fail to meet daily exercise target, WHO study finds

Majority of 1.6 million participants surveyed in 146 countries did not meet the 60-minute recommendation for moderate to vigorous daily exercise

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More than 80 per cent of school children around the world have been labelled "inactive" by the world’s leading health authority.

Alarming figures from the World Health Organisation showed that four in five 11 to 17-year-old's were not doing enough exercise.

According to the first analysis of its kind, the majority of the 1.6 million participants surveyed did not meet the current 60-minute recommendation for “moderate-to-vigorous” daily exertion.

Boys were found to be more likely to work up a sweat than girls in all but four of the 146 countries polled.

Yet just 22 per cent of males were found to be “sufficiently active” for more than one hour a day, compared to 15 per cent of girls.

In the UAE, the survey found that just 18 per cent of 11 to 17-year-old's exercise enough.

“Across all nine regions, girls were less active than boys, with significant differences between sexes in seven of the nine regions,” the authors of the study said.

Statistics from the World Health Organisation paint a picture of how inactive school children are around the world. The National 

“If these trends continue, the global target of [having] less than 70 per cent [of inactive children] by 2030 will not be achieved."

The WHO report, published in The Lancet medical journal this month, looked at the inactivity levels in school-aged children for the years 2001 and 2016.

It found that those surveyed were “compromising their current and future health” by failing to take enough exercise.

In the short-term, being active can positively impact fitness, building stronger bones and muscles and helping lower weight.

In the long-run, proper exercise can help reduce the risk of disease, including type-2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.

According to the research, South Korea came top globally for the country with the least active teenagers.

It found 94 per cent failed to do one hour of exercise a day. The Philippines was a close second at 93 per cent and Cambodia at 92 per cent.

Meanwhile, in the country with the most active children – Bangladesh – only a third of children, or 34 per cent, met the 60-minute a day exercise target.

Children in the US were also found to be among the least laziest globally, with 28 per cent exercising for an hour or more a day.

Researchers suggested several reasons which might explain the trend in low rates of daily exertion.

“Young people in this age group are very encouraged to work hard, to study for exams," the authors said.

"Often, for very long periods of the day, they are sitting in school doing homework and they are not getting opportunities to be more active."

The WHO said countries should be encouraged to develop or update their "national policy and implementation plans on physical activity".

In September, the UAE Cabinet approved a new nutrition labelling scheme offering consumers more information about the foods they eat.

Once implemented, the initiative aims to improve public health by encouraging people to adopt a healthier lifestyle through the food choices they make.

Other recent healthy policy initiatives in the UAE include the introduction of a tax on fizzy and sugary drinks in 2017.

Speaking to The National, Will Crossley, director of sport at Jumeira Baccalaureate School in Dubai, said children's increasing use of computer games was making it harder to encourage them to exercise.

He said PE lesson time at the school increased as pupils got older, with 80 minutes per week for Grades 1-3 and 100 minutes per week in Grades 4 and 5.

“A recent hurdle as a sports teacher is the battle against TV, computers and video games,” he said.

“As a PE department, we have introduced gamification into our methods of teaching as a tool to increase attraction, engagement and retention within sport.

“The concept is to take elements or structure from video games and incorporate them within a sporting environment.

“These include progressing through levels, creating a point system, and giving students the opportunity to pause and replay.”