Children and teens not getting recommended levels of physical activity — study

Island-of-Ireland ‘report card’ reveals inequalities in exercise levels for children with disabilities

Children and teens are not getting the recommended weekly levels of exercise with a new report card awarding a “C minus” grade for their overall physical activity.

The card, which covers children and teens in the Republic and Northern Ireland, marked physical activity for those with disabilities at a far worse level, awarding an “F grade” for this group.

While the study, Ireland North and South Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Adolescents, found a slight improvement in overall physical activity levels across the island since 2016, a number of inequalities were identified.

Overall, the “C minus” grade shows that recommended physical activity levels are only being achieved in about half of all children and adolescents, while the “F grade” for those with disabilities shows that physical activities are being met in only very few cases. This was the first time that the study analysed data on physical activity among children and adolescents with disabilities.


Across the island of Ireland, children aged 6-17 years are recommended to undertake at least 60 minutes every day of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity.

Investigators from several universities, including Ulster University, Dublin City University, University College Cork and the University of Limerick, found that benchmarks were not being met for physical activities among children and adolescents with disabilities.

In addition to the “F grade” for overall physical activity for this group, a “D grade” was awarded for organised sport, lower than the general population.

Gender inequalities were also identified with more males than females meeting physical activity guidelines, in particular for teenagers, said Dr Angela Carlin from Ulster University’s school of sport. Children and teens from poorer backgrounds also met the guidelines less often.

“The findings underscore the need to respond to these inequalities to give all children and teenagers an equal opportunity to be physically active and healthy,” she said.

The card was produced as part of the Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance, an eight-year-old initiative aimed at creating a world of healthy children.

The study is intended to provoke change in priorities and practices with regard to children’s physical activity across the island, to identify gaps and to advocate for funding.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent