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Why today's kids aren't as fit as their parents were

One in three kids does fewer than 30 minutes of physical activity a day – less than HALF of government guidelines. (But it’s not all YouTube’s fault …)

Kids’ fitness levels took a dive in the latter half of the last century, research shows. In fact, kids in the year 2000 were about 15 percent less fit than their parents were when they were young.

With Sport England’s recent Active Lives survey revealing one in three kids does fewer than 30 minutes of physical activity a day, there seems to be a continuing pattern.

So what’s going on?

Blaming TikTok

Many would be quick to point the finger at TikTok, YouTube, Fortnite or Netflix for kids' lack of inclination to climb trees or ride their bikes from dusk ‘til dawn.

While we can’t ignore this on-tap entertainment as a factor for kids becoming more sedentary, as we’ve found from three years of weekly interviews with our Trendspotter panel (aged 9-12), these channels can often drive activity and interest in activity and sport.

Kids watch vloggers who inspire them to create and achieve like F2Freestylers, who help them learn football skills online and off the pitch:

‘They’re my new favourites, they have amazing skills,’ Meredith.

‘I’ve learned how to pass the ball a lot more and that I need to time my shots,’ Theo.

Kids will then echo their new skills online via their gaming, and offline on the pitch with their mates. Or post gymnastics videos on TikTok and later create their own moves on the mat. (Find out more about how kids are using tech plus what makes them tick in our fortnightly trend reports, see below.)

School kids in a PE lesson
PE sessions are vital for kids' development

How much exercise do kids need?

Although we know from our insight that kids are getting involved in sport – from karate to tag rugby – generally kids’ activity levels in the UK are falling far short of the daily hour recommended by government guidelines.

Activity levels dip with age: 13 to 16-year-olds were the least active age group, found Sport England. The survey also revealed children from poorer families exercised the least. Families struggling financially are less likely to pay out for sports sessions or expensive kit.

Even in school, just 28 percent of kids are hitting their activity target. PE is suffering due to schools facing cuts to resources and also pressure to achieve academic results.

Some primary schools in London were forced to cut PE for two terms so kids could have extra studying time for SATs exams. And 38 percent of teachers have seen a decrease in PE time in secondary schools due to exam pressures, says research from charity Youth Sport Trust.

This is despite the fact that activity can help kids deal with stress that exams can cause, particularly as they get older.

Huge benefits

Exercise can make a vast difference to kids' health and their learning. Mr Yates, a Year 5 class teacher from All Saints Church of England Primary School in Manchester, found this when his school became one of 3,600 in 30 countries around the world to take up The Daily Mile. This initiative helps kids walk or run a mile every day.

‘All children, even those who find exercise difficult, are able to improve their goal over a relatively short period of time,’ he says. ‘Some children will jog around with their friends, whilst chatting, others will be racing around the path to beat their personal target.’

Mr Yates has noticed that often those children who struggle to concentrate during the lessons are the ones who have the most energy when completing the run, which encourages them to use this energy in a positive manner.

Whether kids are the next Mo Farah or not, there are so many other bonuses to sport than winning trophies, as Kate Thornton-Bousfield, national lead for PE and achievement for Youth Sport Trust points out:

‘It’s about everybody having the opportunity to develop holistically through the wider learning that PE, sport and physical activity brings: developing social skills, such as confidence, interaction, communication and team work; emotional skills such as empathy and resilience; and cognitive skills such as problem solving,’ she says.

Getting kids more active

While not every kid is naturally ‘sporty’ and some may dread PE, the right approach can encourage even the most resistant exerciser. Youth Sport Trust is working with schools on teaching methods.

‘The learning needs to be fun and inclusive: the “my personal best” concept rather than being the best,’ says Kate. If we provide enjoyable learning experiences, children will develop a love of physical activity and understand the positive impact a healthy active lifestyle can have on their mood and their outlook.’

As for getting active after school, more free options are needed for kids. ‘We'd like to see emphasis placed on kids being active generally in daily lives, not just when it comes to PE or organised sports,’ adds Kate. ‘Parks and playing fields with free sports equipment and apparatus is a great initiative to help those families who are struggling financially.'

Harnessing kids’ love of digital by merging online and offline play is key. Social media channels which inspire activity such as TikTok’s dance and gymnastics challenges and apps like SuperKicks from the FA, which contains fun activity-based football tasks, brings online and offline together, promoting both an interest in sport and an active lifestyle.

As the adults often say: it’s not the winning, it really is the taking part.

How Beano for Brands can help your marketing strategy

Beano for Brands is a kid-first consultancy and agency for brands seeking to connect with a new generation who are already rewriting the rules of engagement, creativity and even the world around them.

Our fortnightly reports are drawn from a wide range of touch points with real kids and families: Trendspotters (a UK-wide panel aged 9-12), insight and analytics from – the UK’s fastest-growing kids’ site, external research and 80 years of working with kids. Sign up at

Pssst if you don't already get our FREE monthly newsletter updating you on the latest kids' insight, trends and industry news, click here. ​


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