Perception versus reality awareness of physical activity levels of British children

Am J Prev Med. 2010 Jan;38(1):1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2009.08.025.


Background: Interventions to increase children's physical activity have had limited success. One reason may be that children and their parents overestimate children's levels of physical activity, although there is a small amount of data on this topic.

Purpose: This study aims to assess awareness of physical activity levels among British school children aged 9-10 years and their parents.

Methods: Physical activity was measured using an accelerometer in a cross-sectional study of 1892 children (44% male; M age=10.3 years, SD=0.3) from 92 Norfolk schools (Sport, Physical Activity and Eating Behavior: Environmental Determinants in Young People [SPEEDY] study). Data were collected between April and July 2007 and analyzed in 2008. Inactive was defined as <60 minutes/day of moderate and vigorous physical activity. Agreement between physical activity perception (child- and parent-rated) and objective physical activity was assessed. Associations between biological (height, weight, fat mass index); parental (support, BMI, physical activity); and peer factors (support, objective physical activity) and child and parental physical activity awareness were studied using multinomial logistic regression.

Results: In all, 39% of girls and 18% of boys were inactive. A total of 80% of parents of inactive children wrongly thought that their child was sufficiently active. In all, 40% of inactive children overestimated their physical activity level. Compared to parents who accurately described their children as inactive, parents who overestimated were more likely to have girls (p=0.005), to have a child with a lower fat mass index (p<0.001), or to report more parental and peer support (p=0.014 and p<0.001, respectively).

Conclusions: Most parents of inactive children wrongly consider their children to be sufficiently active; parents of children with a lower fat mass index appear to assume that their children are adequately active. Increasing awareness regarding health benefits of physical activity beyond weight control might help reverse misperceptions of physical activity levels and encourage behavior change.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Awareness / classification*
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • England
  • Exercise* / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / instrumentation*
  • Parents