RESEARCH that overturns previous findings suggests children become less active by the age of seven.

Until now it has been held that the decline in physical activity hits females first and begin in adolescence. But new work by Strathclyde and Newcastle Universities suggests children adopt more sedentary behaviours far earlier, with no gender split.

The claims are based on a long-term study of children published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Researchers fitted 400 youngsters with portable activity monitors over a period of eight years, measuring their exercise between the ages of seven and 15. They found the total volume of activity dropped for both boys and girls from the age of seven onwards, with the declines no steeper during adolescence than earlier childhood.

Professors John Reilly of Strathclyde and Ashley Adamson of Newcastle say the findings suggest policy makers should change their approach to young people’s health and fitness, stating: “The study questions the concept of the adolescent girl as a priority for research and policy efforts in physical activity.

“Future research and public health policy should focus on preventing the decline in physical activity which begins in childhood, not adolescence, and providing an improved understanding of the determinants of the different physical activity trajectories, including an understanding of the relative importance of biological and environmental influences.”

Despite the overall trend, one in five boys did maintain levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity and the paper suggests exploring why this is could point the way forwards.

The young people were all based in North East England and the researchers say regional issues may be at play. However, they stated: “100 per cent of boys and girls fitted into longitudinal trajectories which were inconsistent with the orthodox view .”