Cautionary New Report About Kids’ Physical Fitness Levels

World Challenge, the schools expedition provider, released new data this week that paints a cautionary tale about the physical fitness of today’s youth. According to the organisation, a stunning 28% of children that were asked to take part in the 2013 World Challenge expedition were unable to reach the level of fitness recommended by the company.

Considering the fact that these 5,000 children actually volunteered to take part in a physical challenge, the high failure rate is a cause for concern among the general fitness level of young people. The number is quite large for a group that considers itself fit, therefore, the amount of youths in the general population that would fail is likely higher (Only nine percent of applicants for the expedition were considered overweight compared to the national average of 28%).

Matt Eastlake, Group Managing Director at World Challenge, said: “Far too often we look only at measurements like BMI to judge fitness, but fitness is not just about weight. Our data taken over the last year shows that whilst students signing up to World Challenge are more likely to be of healthy weight, still more than one in four will fail to reach our recommended target fitness level the first time around.

“To get ahead in today’s world young people need to be well-rounded individuals; not just focused on academic achievement but to also challenge themselves, pushing themselves physically and mentally out of their comfort zone to gain life experience and valuable transferable skills. But to be able to access, and make the most of, these types of opportunities physical fitness is key.”

World Challenge’s data shows that of those who failed to reach the recommended average level of fitness first time around 25% were able to reach that standard in a subsequent test following a short period of fitness training.

The Health Survey for England in 2012 reported that the proportion of young people meeting recommendations for physical activity is lower in older children and teenagers. Only 14% of boys and 8% of girls aged 13-15 meet the government’s recommended target for physical activity.

Evidence from the Department for Education (DfE) also shows that participation in sport in secondary schools is declining (Evidence on Physical Education and Sport in Schools, June 2013) but despite increased investment in school sport at primary level, no additional support has been provided to secondary schools since the Schools Sports Partnerships were pulled in 2011.

Expedition medical expert Dr Jon Dallimore said: “Simply doing your preferred exercise for half an hour, three times each week, will help to increase fitness levels, reduce heart rate and reduce recovery times. This could be walking or cycling to school instead of getting a lift, swimming, going to the gym or playing a sport. What’s most important is that the activity is enjoyable, sustainable and is at a level to increase heart rate for at least half an hour.”

Dr Davina Deniszczyc, Medical Director – Wellbeing at Nuffield Health, added: “Instilling good habits from childhood is paramount. When we’re young we are more impressionable and the habits we learn stay with us throughout our lives. Once children get to five years old they should be doing a few different types of exercise a week that will help to build their muscles and bone strength as well as physical fitness.

“Nuffield Health believes in encouraging children and young people to learn about their health and fitness and we are delighted to see that World Challenge is seeking to increase an awareness of the importance of keeping fit from an early age.”

The report Ready for the World? Levels of health and fitness among young people in the UK 2014 will be published today (12th June 2014) and is available to download for free at