91% of today’s children are not getting enough exercise

Joanna Rowsell Shand and children at a school

A YouGov poll, carried out on our behalf, surveyed 1,370 parents of 5 to 16 year-olds about their children’s daily levels of physical activity

Joanna Rowsell Shand and children at a school

The Big Pedal 2017, which runs from 20 to 31 March, more than 1,560 schools across the UK will participate

20 March 2017

New figures show that less than one in ten (9%) of the UK’s parents say their children get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day. A YouGov poll, carried out on our behalf, surveyed 1,370 parents of 5 to 16 year-olds about their children’s daily levels of physical activity. 

About one in five (19%) of those surveyed said their child took part in 60 minutes of physical activity a day, two days a week. While 13% said their children did so one day a week or less.

Government guidelines

According to government guidelines, children and young people aged 5 to 18 need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day “to maintain a basic level of health”.

The survey also found: 

  • 13% of the respondents were concerned their child was overweight, with 9% saying in the past two years they had either been, or had thought about going, to see a healthcare practitioner about their child being overweight. 
  • the number of children cycling the whole way to and from school is low at 3%. 
  • more than one in three (35%) of parents say their children now travel to school by car, while 12% of the parents surveyed said they had travelled to school by car as a child. 

Walking, scooting or cycling to school would help children get their recommended hour of physical activity a day and maintain a healthy weight.

Parents, however, have cited the need for improved infrastructure, such as wider pavements and better crossings, and enhanced road safety among their top priorities before allowing their child to walk, scoot or cycle to school. 

Sugar tax

We are calling on schools and local authorities in England to use the money from a levy on soft drinks to help more children walk, scoot and cycle the school journey.

We would like to see governments elsewhere in the UK commit additional funding from the soft drinks levy to support active travel.

Xavier Brice, our CEO, said: “The average journey to primary school is 1.6 miles - a distance that can be walked, scooted or cycled as an easy way of building more physical activity into our busy lives[1].

"We're calling on schools in England to use some of the funding from the doubled School Sport Premium and the Healthy Pupils’ Capital Programme derived from the sugar tax to boost levels of active travel on the school journey.

"Local authorities need to play their part too and invest in safer and better infrastructure, if we want to reduce the high levels of inactivity of our children[2]."

Benefits of cycling and walking 

Ashley Cooper, Professor of Physical Activity and Public Health at the University of Bristol, said: “Sadly, it isn’t a surprise to see low numbers of children in the UK meeting the physical activity guidelines. These findings point out however that some parents are recognising the impact of sedentary lifestyle on their children and we need to build on this awareness.

There is now a wealth of research evidence that tells us that walking or cycling to school are important for young people’s physical activity and health. Walking or cycling to and from school contributes up to a third of children's moderate to vigorous physical activity, helping them to meet health guidelines, and children who cycle to school are fitter and healthier than those who don't.”

The Big Pedal 

The survey has been released to launch The Big Pedal 2017, the UK’s biggest challenge to get more young people cycling and scooting to school.

The Big Pedal 2017, which runs from Monday 20 to Friday 31 March, will see more than 1,560 schools across the UK leave their cars at home and get on their bikes and scooters for their journeys to and from school.

Double Olympic champion Joanna Rowsell Shand, who is supporting The Big Pedal for the second year running, said: “Now more than ever we need to see more children walking, scooting or cycling to school.

Not only is cycling great for young people’s health, it also builds confidence and independence, and I’ve got lots of happy memories of cycling to school when I was a kid. 

The safer and more comfortable children feel on their bikes, the more they will enjoy it and the more likely they are to continue to cycle throughout their lives.”

For more information, images and interviews please contact:

Anna Galandzij, Senior Press Officer at Sustrans, 07557 915648

Amy Jones, Press and Media Officer at Sustrans, 07768 035318


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 9,122 adults, of which 1,370 were parents of children aged 5 to 16. Fieldwork was undertaken between 27 February - 7 March 2017. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

[1] National Travel Survey 2014

[2] In England, the Government has committed £160 million to doubling the ‘School Sport Premium’ each year from the 2017-18 academic year and £415 million to a ‘healthy pupils capital programme’ from the 2018-19 academic year with funds from the sugar tax to support activities, such as  PE, after school and healthy eating, among others.