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Conference Paper International Association for Time-Use Research Conference

Chewing the Fat: the story time diaries tell about physical activity in the United Kingdom


Publication date

16 Oct 2002


This paper uses data from the UK Office for National Statistics 2000-2001 national time use study to examine levels of physical activity in the UK. The data cover a random national sample of private households across the UK, and all household members aged 8 and above were asked to keep two 24 hour diaries of their activities, on diary on a week day and the other on a weekend day. This paper assesses both the reported level of participation in sports in the last four weeks and also the reported time undertaking six categories of physical activity: participation in sports and keeping fit, productive exercise, physically active housework, physically active care, walking dogs, self-powered transport. Diary data include some limitations. Diaries only measure when activity occurs, but not the intensity of the activity. Diaries also generally do not collect activities of a very short duration, and diarists are often reluctant to include some activities, such a sexual and violent behaviour. The design of this particular study also did not collect information on what people did during formal education and paid work. In consequence, some physically active time is not included in this analysis. Most people in Britain regularly engage in over two hours of physical activity on a daily basis. Some positive challenges to common stereotypes emerge in the data. Women and older people are much more physically active than popular mythology might suggest. Having a driving license and access to the internet at home increase the likelihood of participating in sports and undertaking regular exercise. The data also reveal worrying trends. Young people are increasingly inactive, and the average teenager undertakes less exercise than the average pensioner. On the average day, 15% of the British population undertake no exercise that lasts in excess of 5 minutes, and this finding is not likely to be explained by artefacts of the study design. This latter finding raises worrying prospects for the future health of the largely inactive.

Related publications

  1. Chewing the fat: the story time diaries tell about physical activity in the United Kingdom

    Kimberly Fisher

    1. Time Use
    2. Health


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