Health-enhancing physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children and adolescents

J Sports Sci. 2004 Aug;22(8):679-701. doi: 10.1080/02640410410001712412.


We provide a wide-ranging review of health-related physical activity in children and adolescents using a behavioural epidemiology framework. In contrast to many other reviews, we highlight issues associated with true sedentary behaviours alongside physically active behaviours. Specifically, we review the evidence concerning the links between physical activity and cardiovascular disease, overweight and obesity, psychosocial measures, type II diabetes, and skeletal health. Although the evidence is unconvincing at times, several factors lead to the conclusion that promoting physical activity in youth is desirable. A review of the prevalence of physical activity and sedentary behaviours shows that many young people are active, but this declines with age. A substantial number are not adequately active for health benefits and current trends in juvenile obesity are a cause for concern. Prevalence data on sedentary behaviours are less extensive but suggest that total media use by young people has not changed greatly in recent years. Most children and adolescents do not exceed recommended daily hours of TV viewing. Physical activity is unrelated to TV viewing. We also identified the key determinants of physical activity in this age group, highlighting demographic, biological, psychological, behavioural, social and environmental determinants. Interventions were considered for school, family and community environments. Finally, policy recommendations are offered for the education, governmental, sport and recreation, health, and mass media sectors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism
  • Child
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Delivery of Health Care* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / prevention & control
  • Exercise
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Social Support