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BACKGROUND: Low childhood physical activity levels constitute an important modifiable risk for adult non-communicable disease incidence and subsequent socio-economic burden, but few publications have explored age and sex related patterns within the UK population. The aims were to profile child physical activity data from the Health Survey for England from 2012 (1,732 respondents) and 2015 (5,346 respondents). METHODS: Reported physical activity episodes were converted to metabolic equivalents with reference to child-specific compendiums. Physical activity levels were aggregated for each domain, and again to produce total physical activity estimates. Contributions from each domain to total physical activity were explored, stratifying for age, sex, socio-economic deprivation, ethnicity, and weight status. Further analyses were run stratifying for physical activity levels. Few differences were detected between the survey iterations. RESULTS: Boys reported higher absolute levels of physical activity at all ages and across all domains. For boys and girls, informal activity reduces with age. For boys this reduction is largely mitigated by increased formal sport, but this is not the case for girls. Absolute levels of school activity and active travel remained consistent regardless of total physical activity, thereby comprising an increasingly important proportion of total physical activity for less active children. CONCLUSIONS: We recommend a specific focus on establishing and maintaining girl's participation in formal sport thorough their teenage years, and a recognition and consolidation of the important role played by active travel and school-based physical activity for the least active children.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Public Health

Publication Date





Child health, Ethnicity, Health survey for England, Physical activity, Adolescent, Child, England, Exercise, Female, Health Surveys, Humans, Male, Schools, Sports