REVIEW #6: Increasing Children’s Physical Activity in Estonia

The deficiency of physical activity among children has become a problem across Europe, including Estonia. One of the driving forces may be that children spend more time using smartphones and tablets instead of playing with friends and doing sports. According to the latest research by Aasvee & Minossenko, less than 20 percent of Estonian children move as much as the World Health Organization advises, which is at least one hour a day. A major challenge is to find ways to increase children’s physical activity.

During the last few years, there have been several surveys about the physical activity in Estonia. In the Aasvee & Minossenko study, 16.4 percent of Estonians 11 to 15 years old declared that they are engaged in some kind of physical activity at least one hour a day every day. In general, boys were more active than girls. However, when researchers measured the activity level with activity monitors instead of asking students, the results showed that the advised activity level is reached by 13 percent of girls between 2 and 11 years old and 26.8 percent of boys. Additionally, only 18.3 percent of children between 7 and 13 years old move enough every school day. It is therefore evident that most children do not have enough physical activity.

To address the problem, many countries have developed school-based measures to increase physical activity. The most effective measures have been multi-component school-based interventions.

The Importance of Physical Activity in Childhood

Research shows that physical activity plays an important role for physical and mental health – it supports and even improves the quality of life. The right dose of activity has a considerable influence on diminishing the risk of cardio-vascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, several forms of cancer, and obesity. It also helps decrease the risk of mental health problems. The physical capability developed by physical activity is connected with many health benefits for school-aged children and youth and is one of the most important health indicators. Regular physical activity keeps the skeleton and muscles fit and healthy, increases muscular power and endurance, and decreases the risk of chronic diseases. More than that, physical activity may increase self-confidence and reduce stress and anxiety levels.

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Mihkel Lees