Sedentary behaviour is related to poorer health outcomes, such as type II diabetes, cardio-metabolic disease and all-cause mortality, regardless of an individual’s physical activity levels. In simple terms this means that the longer the amount of time a person sits, the shorter they live. Children and young people spend a large amount of their day engaging in sedentary pursuits; sitting down whilst at school (e.g. during lessons or break time etc.), non-active travel (e.g. bus or car etc.), sitting during leisure time (e.g. watching television or playing video games etc.). Earlier studies have shown a reduction in physical and psychosocial health outcomes amongst children and youth who spend less than 2 hours engaging in sedentary behaviours.
The British Heart Foundation have summarised international recommendations from the USA, Australia and the United Kingdom. The recommendation for the amount of time children and young people should spend sitting during leisure time should be less than 2 hours per day.
Further, Australian guidelines suggest that infants, toddlers and pre-school children should not be sedentary, restrained, or kept inactive for more than one hour per day apart from when sleeping.
The benchmark used by the Research Work Group to allocate a grade to this indicator was ‘the percentage of young people who exceed the recommended sedentary time guidelines (i.e. 2 or more hours)’. Data on sedentary behaviours such as time spent sitting on weekdays and weekends outside of school hours were used.
A nationally representative data source was used by the Research Work Group to assign a sedentary behaviours grade.
1. The School Health Research Network: Student Health and Wellbeing Survey (2017) collated self-report sedentary data on 112,054 children aged 11-17 years old. Distributed to 193 schools in Wales, young people were asked how much time spent sitting they had undertaken outside of school hours. The young people were asked to provide an answer for weekdays as well as weekends.
The survey showed that 81% of young people spent two or more hours sitting during the weekdays. The proportions reported between boys and girls were different (82% boys and 80% girls). When comparing reports across age groups, higher proportions were observed among older age groups (aged 14 years and above,) with 88% reporting 2 hours or more sitting time on weekdays compared to younger peers (75%). A difference in the proportion of young people not meeting the guidelines was also observed across reported ethnicities (78% among black and minority ethnic (BME) populations and 81% among white populations).
Compared to weekdays, the survey showed even higher proportions of sedentary time on weekends, with 88% of young people reporting two or more hours of sitting time. No gender difference was noted in the reported proportions (88% for both genders). Similar to weekday data, higher proportions of young people not meeting the recommended sedentary guidelines were observed among those aged 14 years and above (92% vs. 84%). Ethnicity data showed a difference in proportions; with 88% of the white population and 86% of the BME population reporting two or more hours of sitting time.
2. The National Survey for Wales (NSW, 2016-17) asked parents/guardians of children aged 3-17 to report the amount of time their child was active on each day in the previous seven days. Parents were informed that they should consider activities that left their child feeling warm or at least slightly out of breath and that these activities could include playing sport, cycling, running or brisk walking either at school, outside school, with a club, with friends or on their own. Results of the survey demonstrated that 81% of children had at least two hours screen time (using electronic devices or watching television) on an average weekday and over 92%) had at least two hours screen time on a weekend day. Screen time among children increased with age.
The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Survey (2013/14) on 9,055 Secondary School children and young people aged 11-16 year olds, provides data on the percentage of children and young people spending 2 or more hours a day in sedentary behaviours.
On a weekday, 53% of children and young people spent 2+ hours a day playing games on an electronic device, 64% spent 2+ hours a day using an electronic device for purposes other than gaming, and 68% spent 2+ hours a day watching entertainment on a screen. On the weekend, the proportion of children and young people who spent 2+ hours a day on playing games on an electronic device, using an electronic device for purposes other than gaming, and watching entertainment on a screen increased to 65%, 71%, and 80%, respectively.
During weekdays, a higher proportion of boys spent 2 or more hours a day playing games on an electronic device and watching entertainment on a screen compared to girls. Girls on the other hand spent more than 2 hours a day using an electronic device for purposes other than gaming. During the weekend, the gender differences in the proportion playing games on an electronic device and using an electronic device for purposes other than gaming remained the same as on weekdays, but there were similar proportions of both boys and girl spending more than 2 hours a day watching entertainment on a screen.
Findings for both weekdays and weekends were consistent across all socioeconomic status, and findings for playing games on an electronic device were similar across age groups. Use of electronic devices for purposes other than gaming and watching entertainment increased with age for boys and girls.
The Research Working Group assigned an F to this category as when taking both weekday and weekend data into account, the proportion of non-sedentary young people was only between 12 and 19%. This grade has changed from the 2016 AHK-Wales report card that concluded a D- grade. It is important to note that the questions used for the 2016 and 2018 sedentary indicator differ, with the 2018 question capturing all sedentary behaviours with a single question (i.e. all sitting related activities).