The obesity epidemic is a global trend and is of particular concern in children. Recent reports have highlighted the severity of obesity in children by suggesting: "today's generation of children will be the first for over a century for whom life expectancy falls." This review assesses the evidence that identifies the important role of physical activity in the growth, development and physical health of young people, owing to its numerous physical and psychological health benefits. Key issues, such as "does a sedentary lifestyle automatically lead to obesity" and "are levels of physical activity in today's children less than physical activity levels in children from previous generations?", are also discussed.Today's environment enforces an inactive lifestyle that is likely to contribute to a positive energy balance and childhood obesity. Whether a child or adolescent, the evidence is conclusive that physical activity is conducive to a healthy lifestyle and prevention of disease. Habitual physical activity established during the early years may provide the greatest likelihood of impact on mortality and longevity. It is evident that environmental factors need to change if physical activity strategies are to have a significant impact on increasing habitual physical activity levels in children and adolescents. There is also a need for more evidence-based physical activity guidelines for children of all ages. Efforts should be concentrated on facilitating an active lifestyle for children in an attempt to put a stop to the increasing prevalence of obese children.