A critical review of national physical activity policies relating to children and young people in England

Anna Chalkley, Karen Milton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
22 Downloads (Pure)


Background: There has been an increasing focus on the importance of national policy to address population levels of physical inactivity. It has been suggested that the 4 cornerstones of policy comprise (1) national guidelines on physical activity (PA), (2) setting population goals and targets, (3) surveillance or health-monitoring systems, and (4) public education. The current study aimed to review the policy actions that have addressed each of these elements for children and youth in England and to identify areas of progress and remaining challenges. 

Methods: A literature search was undertaken to identify past and present documents relevant to PA policy for children and youth in England. Each document was analysed to identify content relevant to the 4 cornerstones of policy. 

Results: Physical activity guidelines (Cornerstone 1) for children and youth have been in place since 1998 and reviewed periodically. Physical activity targets (Cornerstone 2) have focussed on the provision of opportunities for PA, mainly through physical education in schools rather than in relation to the proportion of children meeting recommended PA levels. There has been much surveillance (Cornerstone 3) of children's PA, but this has been undertaken infrequently over time and with varying inclusions of differing domains of activity. There has been only one campaign (Cornerstone 4) that targeted children and their intermediaries, Change4Life, which was an obesity campaign focussing on dietary behavior in combination with PA. Most recently, a government infographic supporting the PA guidelines for children and young people was developed, but details of its dissemination and usage are unknown. 

Conclusion: There have been many developments in national PA policy in England targeted to children and young people. The area of most significant progress is national PA guidelines. Establishing prevalence targets, streamlining surveillance systems, and investing in public education with supportive policies, environments, and opportunities would strengthen national policy efforts to increase PA and reduce sedentary behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-262
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Sport and Health Science
Issue number3
Early online date1 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


  • Physical activity
  • Policy
  • Public education
  • Recommendations
  • Surveillance

Cite this