Physical Activity Levels Disparity Identified Within Young People and Children from Ethnically Diverse Communities

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the activity levels of both children and young people and adults alike. The Active Lives Children and Young People Survey (2020) by Sport England investigated children's sport and physical activity habits and levels of physical literacy in England. The findings highlighted that 3.2 million children were active during the 2019-20 academic year, a 1.9% decrease on the previous year's results. While activity levels were increasing during the autumn of 2019, stormy weather conditions and the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a quite an alarming drop in activity during the 2020 school spring and summer terms.

Having already acknowledged the apparent health disparities for ethnically diverse communities (Public Health England, May 2020), the Children and Young People Active Lives Report further emphasises the disparities in physical activity faced by young people from these communities. The report highlights significant drops in activity (60 minutes a day) among Black (17%), Other ethnic (9.6%), Mixed (7.9%) and Asian (3.3%) children and young people during the 2019/20 summer term compared to the same period in 2018/19. Most concerning is the disproportionate impact on children and young people from Black communities. The report found that this group was the least active; only 35% did an average of 60 minute or more a day of physical activity compared to those from 'Other white' (48%) and White British backgrounds (47%). The pandemic has simply accentuated the inequalities faced by the least active communities that were already present in comparison to their White counterparts.

Participation and positive attitudes towards exercise and sports have also suffered a change amongst different ethnicities as a result of the limitations faced. Positive attitudes towards sport and physical activity decreased most significantly among children and young people from Black and Other ethnic backgrounds. There was a reduction across all five attitudinal measures for children and young people from Black communities, with confidence levels (-11.5%) and knowledge about how to get involved in sports (-10.8%) decreasing the most. This emphasises the potential long-term impact that a lack of access and support for physical activities can have on the mental wellbeing and confidence of a young person.

The data also indicates that children from low socio-economic group families experienced a greater reduction in participation. In the 2019/20 academic year, there was a 14.4% difference in participation in 60 minutes or more of physical activity a day among children and young people from high and low socio-economic group families. 52.5% of children and young people from affluent families participated in an average of 60 minutes or more of physical activity compared to 38.1% from the low affluent. This significant drop in participation by those from more disadvantaged communities further emphasises the challenges in accessing physical activity in comparison to more affluent communities. Inevitably, school closures and reduced access to sporting facilities during COVID-19 restrictions and lack of green spaces in inner-city and more disadvantaged communities restricted the ability of children and young people to pursue an active lifestyle during the pandemic. As Black communities are among the most economically disadvantaged this is likely to have contributed to the disproportionate impact on the participation by children and young people from these backgrounds.

The research findings reinforce the inequality generally faced by ethnically diverse communities and highlight the widening gaps during the pandemic in both healthcare, access to physical activity and lack of support in other areas. Whilst there is an ongoing need to invest in all disadvantaged communities, the disproportionate impact on Black children and young people will require targeted interventions. This includes investing in school activities in disadvantaged areas and those with larger ethnically diverse populations, increasing the ability of families to better engage with provision and improving digital access to increase awareness. It is also important that the sports sector works to make sure that physical activity and sport is accessible for young people and children from these communities. Supporting and encouraging participation will have longer term benefits on future health and wellbeing outcomes.