Health: The right exercise

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Parents don’t know how much physical activity their children need according to new research by a Leeds Beckett University Research Fellow.

Dr Joanne Trigwell from the University’s School of Health and Wellbeing conducted a study involving parents of children aged four to 16 from different ethnic backgrounds.

Talking to parents from the Asian Bangladeshi, Black African, Black Somali, Chinese, White British and Yemini communities in Liverpool, Dr Trigwell’s research showed that parents wrongly assumed the exercise children had at school was enough to keep them fit and healthy.

The official guidelines for children and young people recommends at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a day such as cycling or playground activities and vigorous intensity activities such as running or tennis, at least three days per week.

Dr Trigwell found that while parents recognised the benefits of physical activity in childhood, they were confused about the intensity of activity needed to get the associated health outcomes and were generally unaware of the physical activity recommendations for children.

“In all ethnic groups, parents considered the physical activity children did at school, during PE classes, at break time and when walking to and from school, to fulfil the recommendation, therefore they did not always see a need to encourage their children to be active out of school hours,” Dr Trigwell explained.

She said the belief was ‘concerning’ as few children are meeting the recommendations and there are significant variations by ethnic background. Activity levels also fell further as children reached adolescence.

Cultural attitudes also had an impact. For example Dr Trigwell said Chinese parents reported regularly taking part in physical activity as a family due to a cultural requirement to be active.

“This positive influence of the Chinese culture was however coupled with cultural barriers,” she added.

“Chinese, Asian Bangladeshi and Yemeni parents considered children’s educational commitments, including homework, faith classes and language lessons relating to ethnic background, to limit the time they have to be active.

Parental expectations of their children’s behaviour were also an influence. Mothers from some ethnic groups said traditional gender roles associated with ethnic backgrounds and religious values impact on their children’s physical activity levels.”

One factor however spanned all ethnic backgrounds and that was children’s preference for more sedentary activities rather than physical exercise.