Last reviewed 27 May 2022

Only 19% of children aged one-to-five years old are getting the recommended amount of daily physical activity despite the lifting of lockdown restrictions, according to a new survey by the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF).

The survey of 1000 parents, conducted by YouGov, highlights that most young children are not getting the recommended amount of at least three-hours of physical activity per day which is critical for their early development and general wellbeing.

It found that 60% of children have not increased their physical activity since lockdown and this is likely to be a contributory factor in the sharp increase in childhood obesity since the pandemic started. The latest data from the National Child Measurement Programme shows obesity prevalence among four and five-year-olds in reception classes rose from 9.9% in 2019–2020 to 14.4% in 2020–2021 — the highest annual rise since the programme began.

The EIF research also reveals that children from lower-income households are taking part in less physical activity and that compared to higher-income households, their parents are more likely to predict that their children’s physical activity levels will be lower this year than last summer.

Significant barriers identified by parents with lower-incomes include the cost of accessing safe spaces to play, such as soft play areas, as well as simply having access to suitable play and open spaces. The cost-of-living crisis could therefore worsen health disparities further and limit the ability of many families to support their young children to keep physically active.

The EIF says it is now crucial that physical activity is prioritised for all families and should be supported through early years settings and schools. It states that a key goal should be to ensure that young children, especially those from low-income households, have access to affordable and safe play and open spaces.

Dr Jo Casebourne, Chief Executive at the Early Intervention Foundation, said:

“In light of growing health disparities between disadvantaged children and their better-off peers, it is concerning to know that so many parents are worried about the cost of taking their child to a play area.

“We think parents, especially those from low-income households, need access to affordable and safe spaces and we need to ensure that children’s physical activity isn’t forgotten about post-lockdown. Getting enough physical activity in the early years is essential for children’s physical and mental wellbeing, as well as their development throughout childhood and positive health outcomes later in life.”

Further information on physical activity guidelines for the under-fives can be found here .