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National Statistics
Publication, Part of

Health Survey for England - 2008: Physical activity and fitness

Official statistics, National statistics, Survey
Publication Date:
Geographic Coverage:
Geographical Granularity:
Country, Regions, Strategic Health Authorities
Date Range:
01 Jan 2008 to 31 Dec 2008


Note 08/07/13:
Errata for regarding two variables incorrectly labelled with the same description in the Data Archive for the Health Survey for England - 2008 dataset deposited in the UK Data Archive


Author: Health and Social Care Information Centre, Lifestyle Statistics


Responsible Statistician: Paul Eastwood, Lifestyles Section Head


Version: 1


Original date of publication: 17th December 2009


Date of errata: 11th June 2013


· Two physical activity variables (NSWA201 and WEPWA201) in the Health Survey for England - 2008 dataset deposited in the Data Archive had the same description of 'on weekdays in the last week have you done any cycling (not to school)?'. This is correct for NSWA201, but incorrect for WEPWA201

· The correct descriptions are:

· NSWA201 - 'on weekdays in the last week have you done any cycling (not to school)?'

· WEPWA201 - 'on weekends in the last week have you done any cycling (not to school)?'


· This has been corrected and the amended dataset has been deposited in the UK Data Archive.


NatCen Social Research and the Health and Social Care Information Centre apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.


Note 18/12/09:
Please note that a slightly amended version of the Health Survey for England 2008 report, Volume 1, has been made available on this page on 18 December 2009. This was in order to correct the legend and title of figure 13G on page 321 of this volume. The NHS IC apologises for any inconvenience caused.

The Health Survey for England is a series of annual surveys designed to measure health and health-related behaviours in adults and children living in private households in England. The survey was commissioned originally by the Department of Health and, from April 2005 by The NHS Information Centre for health and social care. The Health Survey for England has been designed and carried out since 1994 by the Joint Health Surveys Unit of the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University College London Medical School (UCL).

The 2008 Health Survey for England focused on physical activity and fitness. Adults and children were asked to recall their physical activity over recent weeks, and objective measures of physical activity and fitness were also obtained.

A secondary objective was to examine results on childhood obesity and other factors affecting health, including fruit and vegetable consumption, drinking and smoking.



  • Adults were asked to recall how much physical activity they had done over the previous four weeks. Based on this self-report survey, 39 per cent of men and 29 per cent of women aged 16 and over met the Chief Medical Officer's (CMO) minimum recommendations for physical activity. These are that adults should be active at moderate or greater intensity for at least 30 minutes a day on at least five days a week (either in one session or through shorter bouts of activity of 10 minutes or longer). The percentages of both men and women who met these recommendations generally decreased with age.
  • A sub-sample of adults then wore a device called an accelerometer for a week following the survey; this device provides an objective measure of physical activity. Based on the week of accelerometery, only 6 per cent of men and 4 per cent of women met the CMO's recommendations for physical activity. Men and women aged 16-34 were most likely to have met the recommendations (11 per cent and 8 per cent respectively), and the percentages of both men and women meeting the recommendations were lower in the older age groups. 
  • Physical fitness in adults was measured using a step test. Men were found to be significantly fitter than women and, in both sexes, fitness decreased with age. Fitness was related to self-reported physical activity; average level of fitness decreased as self-reported activity level decreased.


  • Based on self-report, a higher percentage of boys than girls aged 2-15 were classified as meeting the CMO's recommendations for physical activity (32 per cent and 24 per cent respectively). These recommendations are that children and young people should do a minimum of 60 minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity each day. Overall, 95 per cent of boys and girls reported that they had participated in some kind of physical activity in the week prior to the survey. The average number of hours of physical activity in that week was greater for boys than for girls (10.0 and 8.7 respectively). There was a clear decrease with age in the number of girls meeting recommendations, from 35 per cent aged 2 to 12 per cent aged 14 (and no such pattern for boys).
  • Based on accelerometery during a week after the survey, the proportions of boys and girls classified as meeting the CMO's recommendations were 33 per cent and 21 per cent respectively. While these overall proportions are similar using the two different methods of measurement, accelerometery indicates a larger differentiation between younger and older children than is apparent with self-reported data; for children aged 4-10, 51 per cent of boys and 34 per cent of girls had met the recommendations compared with 7 per cent of boys and no girls aged 11-15.

Health and lifestyle factors

  • For adults aged 16 and over, self-reported cigarette smoking prevalence was 24 per cent for men and 20 per cent for women. Prevalence did not vary significantly between the periods before and after the introduction of smokefree legislation in England on 1 July 2007. However, self-reported mean hours of exposure to others' smoke was significantly lower post-policy implementation and geometric mean cotinine levels in non-smokers also fell post 1 July 2007 (cotinine is a derivative of nicotine and, in self-reported non-smokers, levels of less than 15 ng/ml are indicative of exposure to other people's smoke).
  • Between 1995 and 2008, the prevalence of obesity among boys aged 2-15 increased from 11 per cent to 17 per cent, and the equivalent increase for girls was from 12 per cent to 15 per cent. Among boys, the percentage who were obese has remained between 17 per cent and 19 per cent since 2002. Among girls, there was a significant decrease in obesity between 2005 and 2006 (from 19 per cent to 15 per cent), and levels have been similar from 2006 to 2008. Future HSE data will be important in confirming whether the overall trend in obesity is flattening or whether the longer term trend is still gradually increasing.


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Last edited: 5 February 2019 12:58 pm