Physical inactivity

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Last updated 10 October 2018 - see all updates

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1. Main facts and figures

  • people from the Asian, Black, Chinese and Other ethnic groups were more likely to be physically inactive than White British people, White Other people and people from a Mixed ethnic background

  • overall, women were more likely to be physically inactive than men, with the biggest difference between women and men in the Asian group

  • across the 3 youngest age groups (people aged 16 to 44), White British people were less likely to be physically inactive than the average for these age groups

  • of people in managerial and professional occupations, the Asian group was most likely to be physically inactive

  • new data has been published for the year 2016/17 and data for 2015/16 has been revised so that the “all ethnic groups” category now includes those with unknown ethnicity while data for individual ethnic groups is not affected – this data isn’t currently reflected in the charts, tables and commentary on this page, but you can get a CSV file with the latest figures if you download the data

Things you need to know

Sport England’s Active Lives Survey is a ‘sample survey’: it collects information from a random sample of the population to make generalisations (reach 'findings') about the total population.

The commentary for this data only refers to differences between groups where they are 'statistically significant'. Findings are statistically significant when we can be confident that they can be repeated, and are reflective of the total population rather than just the survey sample.

Specifically, the statistical tests used mean we can be confident that if we carried out the same survey on different random samples of the population, 19 times out of 20 we would get similar findings.

Keep in mind when making comparisons between ethnic groups that all survey estimates are subject to a degree of uncertainty, as they are based on a sample of the population. The degree of uncertainty is greater when the number of respondents is small, so it will be highest for minority ethnic groups.

In some cases, charts and tables show a difference between ethnic groups, men and women, regions, or age groups, and no commentary is given. This is because it isn’t possible to say with confidence whether these differences are statistically significant.

What the data measures

This data measures levels of physical inactivity among people aged 16 and over in England, and breaks this information down by ethnicity.

The data comes from Sport England’s Active Lives Survey.

People who do less than 30 minutes of moderate intensity equivalent (MIE) physical activity a week are categorised as ‘physically inactive’.

MIE physical activity raises your heart rate and leaves you feeling a little out of breath.

Physical activity of vigorous intensity means you are breathing hard and fast and your heart rate has increased significantly.

For measuring physical activity levels, 1 minute of vigorous activity is the equivalent of 2 minutes of moderate activity.

The physical activities covered in the Active Lives Survey include:

  • sporting activities (team sports, racquet sports, swimming, bowls, fencing)
  • fitness activities (gym sessions, fitness classes, weights)
  • cycling for sport and leisure
  • cycling for travel
  • walking for travel
  • walking for leisure
  • dance
The ethnic categories used in this data

Sports England used the following broad ethnic categories when analysing data from the Active Lives Survey:

  • Asian
  • Black
  • Chinese
  • Mixed
  • White British
  • White Other
  • Other

2. Physical inactivity by ethnicity

Percentage of people classed as physically inactive by ethnicity
Ethnicity % Number of respondents
All 25 192,623
White British 25 167,292
White Other 23 9,898
Asian 31 7,984
Black 29 2,910
Chinese 31 1,057
Mixed 19 1,982
Other 30 1,500

Download table data for ‘Physical inactivity by ethnicity’ (CSV) Source data for ‘Physical inactivity by ethnicity’ (CSV)

Summary of Physical inactivity Physical inactivity by ethnicity Summary

This data shows that:

  • overall, 25% of people in England were categorised as physically inactive over the period studied

  • people from the Asian, Black, Chinese and Other ethnic groups were more likely to be inactive, at 31%, 29%, 31% and 30% respectively, than people from the White British, White Other and Mixed ethnic groups, at 25%, 23% and 19% respectively

3. Physical inactivity by ethnicity and gender

Percentage of people classed as physically inactive by ethnicity and gender
All Female Male
Ethnicity All % All Number of respondents Female % Female Number of respondents Male % Male Number of respondents
All 25 192,623 27 107,612 24 84,660
Asian 31 7,984 34 4,183 28 3,787
Chinese 31 1,057 33 617 29 437
Black 29 2,910 30 1,750 27 1,149
Mixed 19 1,982 20 1,207 18 771
White British 25 167,292 26 93,117 24 73,864
White Other 23 9,898 23 5,903 23 3,988
Other 30 1,500 31 835 29 664

Download table data for ‘Physical inactivity by ethnicity and gender’ (CSV) Source data for ‘Physical inactivity by ethnicity and gender’ (CSV)

Summary of Physical inactivity Physical inactivity by ethnicity and gender Summary

This data shows that:

  • overall, women were more likely to be physically inactive than men (at 27%, compared with 24% for men)

  • White British women were 2 percentage points more likely to be inactive than White British men (26% compared with 24%), while Asian women were 6 percentage points more likely to be inactive than Asian men (34% compared with 28%)

  • it’s not possible to draw firm conclusions about differences in physical activity between men and women in any of the other ethnic groups, because results for these groups are less reliable due to smaller sample sizes

  • women from the Asian, Black, Chinese and Other ethnic groups were more likely to be inactive than women from the Mixed, White British and White Other groups

  • men from the Mixed ethnic group were less likely to be physically inactive than men from most other ethnic groups; we can’t draw firm conclusions about the difference between Mixed ethnic and White Other men, because results are less reliable

4. Physical inactivity by ethnicity and age group

Percentage of people classed as physically inactive by ethnicity and age group
16-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65-74 75+
Ethnicity 16-24 % 16-24 Number of respondents 25-34 % 25-34 Number of respondents 35-44 % 35-44 Number of respondents 45-54 % 45-54 Number of respondents 55-64 % 55-64 Number of respondents 65-74 % 65-74 Number of respondents 75+ % 75+ Number of respondents
All 14 12,744 19 23,674 20 29,805 22 33,185 28 36,653 31 36,439 54 18,797
Asian 22 1,212 30 1,800 33 2,378 31 1,185 39 681 46 455 55 219
Chinese 24 152 32 272 30 268 31 176 49 117 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 54 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 14
Black 19 388 27 460 26 663 27 728 40 380 43 121 71 107
Mixed 15 408 18 483 16 418 18 339 33 195 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 84 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 39
White British 13 9,830 17 17,691 17 22,976 21 28,962 27 34,000 30 34,739 53 17,965
White Other 14 614 20 2,669 23 2,694 23 1,541 25 1,081 33 852 49 397
Other withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 140 27 299 31 408 34 254 37 199 42 134 62 56

Download table data for ‘Physical inactivity by ethnicity and age group’ (CSV) Source data for ‘Physical inactivity by ethnicity and age group’ (CSV)

Summary of Physical inactivity Physical inactivity by ethnicity and age group Summary

This data shows that:

  • across the 3 youngest age groups (people aged 16 to 44), White British people were less likely to be physically inactive than the average for these age groups; it’s not possible to draw firm conclusions about differences in physical activity for people of other ethnic groups, because results for these groups are less reliable

  • in the 35 to 44-year-old age group, people in every ethnic group apart from White British and Mixed were more likely to be physically inactive than the average for this age group, with percentages for inactivity ranging from 23% to 33%

  • across all age groups (with the exception of 75+, where results are less reliable), Asian people are more likely to be inactive than the average

5. Physical inactivity by ethnicity and socio-economic group

Percentage of people classed as physically inactive by ethnicity and socio-economic group
Managerial and professional occupations Intermediate occupations and lower supervisory Routine and manual occupations Long-term unemployed Full-time student or unclassified
Ethnicity Managerial and professional occupations % Managerial and professional occupations number of respondents Intermediate occupations and lower supervisory % Intermediate occupations and lower supervisory number of respondents Routine and manual occupations % Routine and manual occupations number of respondents Long-term unemployed % Long-term unemployed number of respondents Full-time student or unclassified % Full-time student or unclassified number of respondents
All 16 92,714 25 43,975 32 18,318 36 3,830 18 13,663
Asian 26 3,782 33 1,421 39 776 40 546 24 1,186
Chinese 21 578 40 188 47 77 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 24 28 172
Black 20 1,222 30 579 30 301 35 162 26 476
Mixed 12 987 23 350 22 178 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 75 18 337
White British 16 80,009 24 39,178 31 15,748 35 2,753 17 10,510
White Other 15 5,493 25 1,979 34 1,082 38 160 15 737
Other 22 643 29 280 31 156 42 110 27 245

Download table data for ‘Physical inactivity by ethnicity and socio-economic group’ (CSV) Source data for ‘Physical inactivity by ethnicity and socio-economic group’ (CSV)

Summary of Physical inactivity Physical inactivity by ethnicity and socio-economic group Summary

This data shows that:

  • of people in managerial and professional occupations, the Asian group was most likely to be physically inactive (at 26%); there was a 14 percentage point difference between this group and people from a Mixed ethnic background, 12% of whom were inactive

  • of people in intermediate and lower supervisory occupations, the Asian, Black and Chinese groups were most likely to be inactive (at 33%, 30% and 40% respectively) compared with the group overall; however, use caution when comparing these groups to each other, as results are less reliable

  • of people in routine and manual occupations, the Asian and Chinese groups were most likely to be inactive compared with the group overall (at 39% and 47% respectively)

  • it’s not possible to draw firm conclusions about differences in physical activity for the long-term unemployed, or students and people whose occupation was unclassified, because results for these groups are less reliable

6. Methodology

Active Lives is a 'push-to-web' survey which involves up to 4 postal mailouts designed to encourage participants to complete the survey online. A letter is sent to a household inviting up to 2 people per household to take part in the survey, either online or by requesting a paper version of the questionnaire.

The overall sample size is just under 200,000 people each year. The survey sample is randomly selected from the Royal Mail’s Postal Address File, which is a list of addresses in the UK that is maintained by the Royal Mail and has a very high coverage of private residential addresses.

Weighting:

Weighting is used to adjust the results of a survey to make them representative of the population and improve their accuracy.

For example, a survey which contains 25% women and 75% men will not accurately reflect the views of the general population, which we know has an even 50/50 split.

Statisticians rebalance or ‘weight’ the survey results to more accurately represent the general population. This helps to make them more reliable.

Data has been weighted to ONS population measures for geography and key demographics.

Suppression rules and disclosure control

Results are not published when they're based on fewer than 30 respondents.

Rounding

Estimates in the charts and tables are given to the nearest whole number but all gaps and differences have been calculated on unrounded data.

You can download more detailed estimates (to 1 decimal place) if you download the data.

Related publications

Sporting Future

Physical inactivity levels in adults aged 40 to 60 in England

Quality and methodology information

Further technical information

Active Lives Survey 2015/2016 : Technical notes to accompany the year 1 report (PDF)

7. Data sources

Source

Type of data

Survey data

Type of statistic

Official statistics

Publisher

Sport England

Publication frequency

Twice a year

Purpose of data source

The Active Lives Survey measures the number of people aged 16 and over who take part in sport and physical activity.

This data informs the government’s strategy on physical activity, Sporting Future, which looks at 5 aspects of physical activity:

  • physical well-being
  • mental well-being
  • individual development
  • social and community development
  • economic development

8. Download the data

Physical Inactivity - Spreadsheet (csv) 54 KB

This file contains data for the year 2015/16. This is the data used in the charts, tables and commentary shown on this page. This file contains the following: ethnicity, geography, gender, age, socio-economic status, value, denominator, numerator, upper CI, lower CI and number of respondents

Physical inactivity v2 - Spreadsheet (csv) 78 KB

This file contains data for 2015/16 (revised) and 2016/17. This is the latest data available, but does not reflect the figures shown in the charts, tables and commentary on this page. This file contains the following: ethnicity, year, geography, gender, age, socio-economic status, value, denominator, numerator, upper CI, lower CI and number of respondents