Scots children more active than other UK children at age 7, study shows

15 October 2010

Scottish seven-year-olds are the most physically active in the UK, new research suggests.

More than half of them (55%) walk to school each day, compared with only one in four children of the same age in Northern Ireland (25%), a study involving more than 14,000 children has found.

Scots seven-year-olds are also the most likely to take part in regular sporting or physical activities. Almost half (48%) of those surveyed are involved in organised after-school or weekend activities at least twice a week.

Northern Irish children are the least likely to take part in this form of routine physical activity too. Fewer than four in ten (38%) attend two or more sports sessions a week.

A minority of Scots seven-year-olds are also relatively inactive. One in four (27%) takes part in sports activities less than once a week or never. However, this figure is even higher in England (34%), Northern Ireland (31.5%) and Wales (29%).

The findings have emerged from the latest survey of the Millennium Cohort Study which is tracking the development of children born in the UK between 2000 and 2002. The survey was conducted in 2008/9 and involved 1,628 children in Scotland.

The researchers found fewer overweight and obese children in Scotland and England than in Northern Ireland and Wales. Five per cent of Scottish seven-year-olds and 6 per cent of English youngsters were said to be obese, compared with 7.5 per cent of Welsh and 8 per cent of Northern Irish children.

However, the researchers, who are based at the Institute of Education, University of London, say it cannot be concluded that children in Northern Ireland and Wales are heavier simply because they are less active than the Scots.

“Activity levels are only one of many influences on children’s weight about which our study is collecting information,” says Professor Heather Joshi, the study’s director. “It is also possible that children’s weight affects how active they are.”

The survey also found that:


  • No less than 98 per cent of mothers in Scotland want their child to go on to university.
  • Even so, mothers in Scotland are least likely to read to their seven-year-olds every day – 37.5 per cent doing so, compared with 47 per cent in Northern Ireland. Scots fathers are, however, most likely to read to their child daily – 20 per cent of them do so, compared with 13 per cent in Wales.
  • Seven-year-olds in Scotland are the least likely to say they enjoy school a lot (48% compared with 53% in England). However, they are most likely to say that they behave well in class (74% compared with 70% in England).

Family background

  • 53 per cent of Scots seven-year-olds are living with married natural parents – a lower percentage than in Northern Ireland (61%) and England (55%) but higher than in Wales (51%).
  • The proportion of Millennium children living in stepfather families in Scotland and Wales (7%) is higher than in England (6%) or Northern Ireland (2%).
  • The Millennium children in Scotland had the lowest rate of income poverty at age 7 (26%, compared with 33% in Wales). The measure of poverty used in this study was family income below 60 per cent of the national household average. The official Households Below Average Income statistics for 2008 also showed that Scotland had the lowest poverty level of the four UK countries.

Health and happiness

  • 42 per cent of seven-year-olds in Scotland say they always feel happy, compared with 35 per cent of English children and 46 per cent in Northern Ireland.
  • 18 per cent of the Scottish children’s fathers smoke at least 10 cigarettes a day, compared with 15 per cent in the other UK countries.

The findings appear in a report published today by the Institute of Education’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies: Millennium Cohort Study, Fourth Survey: A User’s Guide to Initial Findings. Copies of the report can be downloaded from (from 10am on Friday, October 15).

Further information from:

David Budge

(off) 020 7911 5349

(mob) 07811 415362

Notes for editors:

  1. The Millennium Cohort Study has been tracking the Millennium children through their early childhood and plans to follow them into adulthood. It covers such diverse topics as parenting; childcare; school choice; child behaviour and cognitive development; child and parental health; parents’ employment and education; income; housing; and neighbourhood. It is the first of the nationwide cohort studies to over-sample areas with high densities of ethnic minorities and large numbers of disadvantaged families. Previous surveys of the cohort were carried out when the children were aged nine months, three years and five years. The study is housed at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education. It was commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council, whose funding has been supplemented by a consortium of government departments.
  2. Data from the fieldwork for the fourth survey of the Millennium cohort (MCS4) are now available from the UK Data Archive
  3. The contract for data collection in MCS is awarded under competitive tender to specialist agencies. For three of the four surveys undertaken to date the data collection was carried out by the National Centre for Social Research. The agency responsible for the second round of data collection was Gfk-NOP.
  4. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports more than 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.
  5. The Institute of Education is a college of the University of London that specialises in education and related areas of social science and professional practice. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise two-thirds of the publications that the IOE submitted were judged to be internationally significant and over a third were judged to be “world leading”. The Institute was recognised by Ofsted in 2010 for its “high quality” initial teacher training programmes that inspire its students “to want to be outstanding teachers”. The IOE is a member of the 1994 group, which brings together 19 internationally renowned, research-intensive universities.

Ends …



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