Background Previous research has established that physical activity declines during childhood, but we have inadequate information on how these changes differ by ethnic group. Determining if inequalities exist between ethnic groups is vital for understanding whether different intervention strategies are necessary. We aimed to determine how physical activity has changed over time within different UK ethnic groups.
Methods We used Understanding Society, a nationally representative UK-based longitudinal survey to track changes in physical activity over time in different ethnic groups. For children aged 10 to 15, we explored the frequency of participating in sports and mode of travel to school. These factors were measured in four of the available six waves (1, 2 4 and 6), between 2009 and 2015. Children were asked how frequently they participate in sports per week. For mode of travel, children reported whether they walked, cycled, used public transport, were driven or used a combination of these. When including children who were followed up, the sample size was too low to stratify by age or gender. We used linear regression to assess if ethnicity was associated with change in sports participation and mode of transport to school.
Results At baseline, low sports participation (6%) and inactive commuting (54%) was highest in Pakistani children; differences were significant between ethnic groups for mode of travel to school (p<0.00). Frequency of sports participation declined for all ethnic groups between waves 1 and 2, 1 and 4 and 1 and 6. The majority of children did not increase or decrease the overall activity level of their mode of transport to school between any of the waves. Most groups continued to use an active method, though between waves 1 and 4, 50% of Pakistani children retained an inactive method of commuting to school. Despite some differences, linear regression showed that ethnicity was not significantly associated with change in frequency of sports participation or change in mode of transport between any of the waves.
Conclusion Interventions aimed at preventing the decline of physical activity in children from the general population may be appropriate for ethnic minority groups. As active travel to school remains low in some ethnic minorities, targeted interventions to initially change mode of commuting in ethnic minority children is still needed.
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