Physical Activity, Sport and Physical Education in Northern Ireland School Children: A Cross-Sectional Study

Sinead Connolly, Angela Carlin, Anne Johnston, Catherine Woods, Cormac Powell, Sarahjane Belton, Wesley O'Brien, Jean Saunders, Orlagh Farmer, Christina Duff, Marie H Murphy

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Internationally, insufficient physical activity (PA) is a major health concern. Children in Northern Ireland (NI) are recorded as having the lowest levels of PA in the United Kingdom (UK). To date, validated and representative data on the PA levels of NI school children are limited. The aim of this study was to provide surveillance data on self-reported PA, sport and physical education (PE) participation of school children in NI. Differences between genders and factors associated with PA were also examined. A representative sample of primary (n = 446) and post-primary (n = 1508) children was surveyed in school using validated self-report measures. Findings suggest that PA levels are low, with a minority of children (13%) meeting the PA guidelines (primary pupils 20%, post-primary pupils 11%). NI school children have lower levels of PA, PE and sports participation than UK and European peers. A trend of age-related decline across all the domains of PA was apparent. The data presented highlighted that females are less likely to achieve PA guidelines, children from lower socio-economic background participate in school and community sport less often, and that enjoyment and social support are important variables in PA adherence. Policy solutions that would support implementation e.g., mandatory minimum PE time, whole school approaches to PA promotion and targeted investment in schools, particularly in areas of deprivation and for females, are suggested.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6849
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 19 Sept 2020


  • Adolescents
  • Community sport
  • Enjoyment
  • Physical activity
  • Physical education
  • School sport
  • School-aged children
  • Social support
  • Sports participation
  • Youth


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