Ireland’s Children get a D minus for Physical Activity

A new international scale of children’s physical activity levels has graded Ireland with a D minus.

According to data from all over the island of Ireland, only between 12 and 43% of children do enough physical activity.

On May 20th 2014, 15 countries from around the world will publish a series of grades based on children’s physical activity in Toronto, Canada.


About the Report Card

The Report Card on Physical Activity in Children and Youth is a means of collating all data related to children’s physical activity levels (see appendix 1 for details of the data sources) in a particular country and ‘grading’ the evidence using a grading system just like a school report card i.e. A to F or inconclusive/incomplete if there are not enough data available yet.

Dr Deirdre Harrington, a Lecturer in Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Health, from the University of Leicester (UK), has chaired a group of 11 other researchers from both the Republic and Northern Ireland that has developed the Report Card for Ireland in consultation with key stakeholders.

Dr Harrington said: “The Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth has been an effective tool in powering the movement to get kids moving by influencing priorities, policies and practice in Canada for the last 9 years.

“Now a further 14 countries from around the globe who have replicated the Report Card process will present their Report Cards at the Global Summit on Physical Activity of Children in Toronto. Ireland will join Scotland and the US, who have already launched their Report Cards, and England in contributing to the Global Matrix of Report Card grades.”

Dr Harrington said: “Children are natural movers but there is concern that children across the globe are not as active as they should be.

“There are many behaviours (TV viewing, sport participation, active transportation, active play and doing PE) and settings (the home, the school, the community and the built environment and government investment and policy) that are known to influence how active children are. We have called these ‘indicators related to children’s physical activity’

Dr. Harrington stressed that “Monitoring how these indicators change over time is important. This first Report Card in Ireland will act as a baseline for surveillance of physical activity promotion efforts and to ensure that any changes are captured.”

The Grades

Ireland sits in the middle of the other countries involved in the Global Matrix of Report Card grades and Dr Harrington said that “Ireland are neither leading nor lagging on how supportive we are as a country to children’s physical activity.

“There are some things we do well and we need to keep momentum up. But there are also many gaps, including the development, launch and implementation of a National Physical Activity Plan that is adequately funded.”

The 10 indicators graded in Ireland, key grades included:

  1. Overall Physical Activity Levels (D-)
  2. Organised Sport Participation (C-)
  3. Physical Education (D-)
  4. Active Play (INC)
  5. Active Transportation (D)
  6. Sedentary Behaviour (TV Viewing) (C-)
  7. Home (INC)
  8. School (C-)
  9. Community and the Built Environment (B)
  10. Government (INC)

Active Play, the Home and Government were given an Inconclusive grade as data or a clear benchmark do not currently exist.

The Community and the Built Environment indicator was graded with a B based on how parents and teenagers perceive the quality of local facilities and safety of their neighbourhoods. However, Dr Harrington stressed we need be cautious with this indicator: “Just because people perceive their local area to be safe or having good facilities does not always translate to increased use or increase physical activity levels. There are still many ways the local built environment can be adapted to give children more opportunities to be active.”

Recommendations and Gaps

A number of recommendations and key gaps were also highlighted including the absence of a systematic surveillance system for monitoring children’s physical activity levels. Dr Sarahjane Belton, Lecturer in Physical Education at Dublin City University, also said that “there is concern that the planned removal of PE as a subject from the junior cycle curriculum by the Department of Education and Science in the Republic will affect the PE grade in the future and this is something highlighted as a gap that the Government should address”

Dr Marie Murphy from the University of Ulster, who was also a member of the team who developed this Report Card, said “everyone from teachers to policy makers can use the report to refocus efforts to increase help increase the grades and ultimately improve the health of the next generation of Ireland’s citizens.”

Dr. Catherine Woods, Chair of the WHO Health Enhancing Physical Activity working group on children and young people said “this Report Card will set a bench mark for the Island of Ireland from which to work to further improve the opportunities offered to children to be active and the participation of children in physical activity.  Healthy Ireland is currently working on how to develop more opportunities of this nature within the Republic.”

Dr Harrington added that the Report Card is a vital tool for practitioners and policy makers to identify key needs and gaps, allocate funds and develop activity promotion initiatives. “By highlighting indicators that ‘could do better’ we are saying that investment and policy needs to be developed.”

Dr Harrington concluded: “We hope that being part of the Global Matrix of Report Card grades will mean we can learn from the successes and failures of other countries. But also, other countries can learn about what we as an island are doing well at. Essentially, we want to improve the grades of countries around the world, starting at home in Ireland” said Dr Harrington.

  • Dr. Deirdre Harrington, Lecturer in Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Health at the University of Leicester, based at the Diabetes Research Centre, has been developing Ireland first Physical Activity Report Card in Children and Youth for the past year along with colleagues in both the Republic and Northern Ireland and will present Ireland’s Report Card in Toronto in May 2014. She did her PhD at the University of Limerick and worked in the US for 3 years in an obesity research centre.
  • Full copies of the short-form and long-form Report Card can be found at

Appendix 1 – List of data sources used in the 2014 Report Card and dates the data were collected

  • Take PART (Physical Activity Research for Teenagers) Studies (2003-2005)
  • Growing up in Ireland (GUI) Wave 1 of the 9 year old cohort (2007-2009)
  • ESRI Keeping them in the Game, 2013 (reanalysing data from 2007-2009)
  • UK Millennium Cohort Study (MCS4) (2008-2009)
  • Baseline Survey of Timetabled PE in Primary Schools in Northern Ireland (2009)
  • Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity (CSPPA) (2009)
  • Health Behaviour of School-Aged Children (HBSC) (2009-2010 wave)
  • Young Persons’ Behaviour and Attitudes Survey (YPBAS) (2010)
  • Census of the Population of Ireland (2011)

Appendix 2 – Research Work Group Members Involved in Developing the 2014 Report Card

Chair Institution
Deirdre M. Harrington, PhD         Leicester Diabetes Centre, University of Leicester, Leicester UK
Member Institution
Sarahjane Belton, PhD Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland
Tara Coppinger, PhD Cork Institute of Technology, Cork, Ireland
Muireann Cullen, PhD Nutrition and Health Foundation, Dublin, Ireland
Alan Donnelly, PhD University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland
Kieran Dowd, PhD University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland
Teresa Keating, MPH Institute of Public Health in Ireland, Dublin, Ireland
Richard Layte, PhD The Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin, Ireland
Marie Murphy, PhD University of Ulster, Co. Antrim, N. Ireland
Niamh Murphy, PhD Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford, Ireland
Elaine Murtagh, PhD Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, Ireland
Catherine Woods, PhD Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland