Physical inactivity

Published

1. Main facts and figures

  • overall, in 2017/18, 25% of people aged 16 years and over in England were categorised as ‘physically inactive’ – that is, they did less than 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week
  • people from the Asian, Black, and Other ethnic groups were more likely to be physically inactive than those from the White British, White other and Mixed ethnic groups
  • women were more likely to be physically inactive than men, with the biggest difference between women and men found in the Asian group – these findings are consistent with 2015/16 and 2016/17
  • among people aged between 16 and 54 years, those in the White British ethnic group were less likely than average to be physically inactive
  • among people in managerial and professional occupations, those in the White British ethnic group were less likely to be physically inactive than most other ethnic groups
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.

You can see figures for 2015/16 and 2016/17 if you download the data.

What the data measures

This data measures levels of physical inactivity among people aged 16 years 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’. (You can also see a breakdown of physical activity by ethnicity.)

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 – this data counts people from South Asian ethnic groups like Indian and Pakistani as ‘Asian’
  • Black
  • Chinese
  • Mixed
  • White British
  • White Other
  • Other

2. By ethnicity

Percentage of people aged 16 years and over classed as ‘physically inactive’, by ethnicity
Ethnicity % Number of respondents
All 25 185,732
Asian 31 7,275
Black 29 975
Chinese 26 2,655
Mixed 18 2,024
White British 24 155,056
White other 23 9,709
Other 30 1,327

Download table data for ‘By ethnicity’ (CSV) Source data for ‘By ethnicity’ (CSV)

Summary

This data shows that:

  • overall, in 2017/18, 25% of people aged 16 years and over in England were categorised as ‘physically inactive’ – that is, they did less than 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week
  • people from the Asian, Black and Other ethnic groups were more likely than average to be physically inactive, at 31%, 29%, and 30% respectively
  • people from the White British, White other and Mixed ethnic groups were less likely than average to be physically inactive, at 24%, 23% and 18% respectively

3. By ethnicity and gender

Percentage of people aged 16 years and over classed as ‘physically inactive’, by ethnicity and gender
All Female Male
Ethnicity % Number of respondents % Number of respondents % Number of respondents
All 25 185,732 26 103,379 24 82,007
Asian 31 7,275 36 3,794 27 3,470
Black 29 2,655 29 1,601 29 1,048
Chinese 26 975 26 596 26 379
Mixed 18 2,024 18 1,238 19 779
White British 24 155,056 25 86,126 23 68,765
White other 23 9,709 24 5,841 23 3,854
Other 30 1,327 31 769 29 556

Download table data for ‘By ethnicity and gender’ (CSV) Source data for ‘By ethnicity and gender’ (CSV)

Summary

This data shows that:

  • overall, in 2017/18, 26% of women and 24% of men were classed as physically inactive
  • in the Asian ethnic group, women were more likely to be inactive than men (at 36% compared with 27%); in the White British ethnic group, women were more likely to be physically inactive than men (at 25% compared with 23%)
  • women from the Asian and Other ethnic groups were more likely to be inactive than the national average
  • men from the Asian and Black ethnic groups were more likely to be inactive than the national average

4. By ethnicity and age group

Percentage of people aged 16 years and over classed as ‘physically inactive’, by ethnicity and age group
16-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65-74 75+
Ethnicity % Number of respondents % Number of respondents % Number of respondents % Number of respondents % Number of respondents % Number of respondents % Number of respondents
All 15 11,628 20 23,178 21 28,899 22 31,499 27 35,126 29 35,307 52 18,385
Asian 22 977 30 1,592 33 2,156 36 1,165 39 649 37 455 57 221
Black 20 386 25 407 33 599 31 621 38 364 30 132 55 91
Chinese 23 151 24 248 32 250 21 133 36 128 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable
Mixed 16 470 16 512 14 442 27 314 22 171 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable
White British 13 8,514 17 16,887 17 21,109 20 26,472 26 31,531 28 32,633 51 16,867
White other 12 614 22 2,455 24 2,875 24 1,496 24 1,026 31 830 47 366
Other withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 27 234 33 373 28 240 39 174 29 122 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable

Download table data for ‘By ethnicity and age group’ (CSV) Source data for ‘By ethnicity and age group’ (CSV)

Summary

This data shows that:

  • overall, people became more physically inactive the older they were – 15% of people aged 16 to 24 years were physically inactive, compared with 29% of those aged 65 to 74 years
  • people aged 75 years and over had the highest percentage of physically inactivity at 52%, but smaller sample sizes make any generalisations less reliable
  • among people aged between 16 and 54 years, those from the White British ethnic group were less likely than average to be physically inactive – it’s not possible to draw firm conclusions about differences in physical inactivity for people from other ethnic groups, as smaller sample sizes make generalisations for these groups less reliable
  • among people in the 35 to 44 age group, those in every ethnic group except White British and Mixed were more likely than average to be physically inactive
  • in every age group (with the exception of 75 years and over, where results are less reliable), Asian people were more likely than average to be physically inactive

5. By ethnicity and socio-economic group

Percentage of people aged 16 years and over classed as ‘physically inactive’, by ethnicity and socio-economic group
Full-time student or unclassified Intermediate occupations and lower supervisory Long-term unemployed Managerial and professional occupations Routine and manual occupations
Ethnicity % Number of respondents % Number of respondents % Number of respondents % Number of respondents % Number of respondents
All 21 12,806 24 42,837 38 3,572 16 90,455 31 17,677
Asian 24 1,026 35 1,334 43 478 26 3,468 38 748
Black 23 448 32 495 42 151 23 1,178 35 292
Chinese 22 155 43 189 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 19 526 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable
Mixed 17 332 19 356 withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable withheld because a small sample size makes it unreliable 14 1,042 20 195
White British 18 8,721 23 37,095 35 2,416 15 75,262 30 14,695
White other 17 679 26 1,972 33 152 17 5,519 32 1,021
Other 24 201 25 232 48 89 23 626 41 138

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

Summary

This data shows that:

  • among people in managerial and professional occupations, those from the Asian ethnic group were more likely to be physically inactive than those from White British, White other, Chinese and Mixed ethnic groups
  • among people in intermediate and lower supervisory occupations, those from the Asian, Black and Chinese ethnic groups were most likely out of all ethnic groups to be physically inactive (at 35%, 32% and 43% respectively)
  • among people in routine and manual occupations, those from the Asian ethnic group were more likely than average to be physically inactive (at 38%) – it’s not possible to draw firm conclusions about differences in physical inactivity for the long-term unemployed or students, as smaller sample sizes make generalisations for these groups less reliable

6. Methodology

The Active Lives Survey involves up to 4 postal mail-outs 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 - A New Strategy for an Active Nation

Physical inactivity levels in adults aged 40 to 60 in England

Quality and methodology information

Further technical information

Active Lives Survey 2017/2018 Year 3 Technical Note (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) 78 KB

This file contains the following: ethnicity, year, geography, gender, age, socio-economic status, value, denominator, numerator, upper CI, lower CI and number of respondents