HBSC home




Publications: Data Visualisations

Weekly physical activity

Physical activity is essential for long- and short-term physical and mental health and may improve academic and cognitive performance. It is associated with reduced anxiety and depression, and increased musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health among young people.

Findings demonstrate that adolescence is a key period for intervention, with overall activity levels declining between the ages of 11 and 15, especially among girls. Good physical-activity habits established in youth are likely to be carried through into adulthood. Low levels of physical-activity and excess sedentary behaviour in youth are associated with obesity in adult life, a serious and costly global public health issue.

The HBSC study has found family affluence to be an important predictor of young people’s health and participation in physical activities. In general, cost may restrict families’ opportunities to adopt healthy behaviours such as participating in fee-based sports and activities.

Policy recommendations

Neighbourhoods that engender high levels of social capital create a greater likelihood of physical activity, along with a host of other benefits such as improvements for mental health, more health-promoting behaviours, fewer risk-taking behaviours and better overall perceptions of health. Building neighbourhood social capital is therefore a means of tackling health inequalities and helping to promote participation in physical activity, among other health related outcomes.

Factors that ensure equitable access may include:

  • ensuring activities are free or affordable, with provision of free or low-cost transportation to the venue

  • involving young people in programme design to identify barriers to participation

  • ensuring a safe local environment in which children can actively travel and play

  • providing a range of activities that appeal specifically to girls to address the gender gap in participation

  • educating the public through the mass media to raise awareness and change social norms around physical activity

It is important to encourage physical activity in the younger years, so that participation can continue across the lifespan. Interventions that have been found to be effective include:

  • engaging parents in supporting and encouraging their children’s physical activity

  • providing interventions at multiple venues, using a combination of school-based physical education and home-based activities

  • developing school policies that promote highly active physical education classes, suitable physical environments with resources to support structured and unstructured physical activity throughout the day, and active travel programmes

  • promoting interventions that recognize the positive influence of peers

  • promoting interventions that are specifically designed to increase physical activity rather than a range of health behaviours.

Related publications