Children in the UK are among the most housebound and screen-addicted in the world, new research suggests.
Three quarters of British children spend less time playing outside than the recommended daily period of outdoor exercise for prisoners, according to survey of parents in a sample of 10 countries around the world, both developed and developing.
It found that the biggest excuse given globally for keeping children indoors is not stranger danger or children’s own preferences for playing inside but the weather.
Parents in the UK are almost twice as likely as the global average to admit that their children spend less than half an hour playing outside per day while almost one in five said their offspring do not go out at all for recreation on a typical day.
The findings emerge from a market research project for the makers of Persil washing powder, which is launching an advertising campaign with the slogan “dirt is good”.
Some 12,000, parents across the UK, the US, Portugal, Brazil, China, South Africa, Turkey, India, Indonesia and Vietnam were questioned about their children’s play habits to assess whether screen-based entertainment is taking the place of traditional outdoor games.
Overall 74 per cent of British parents said their children have an hour or less of outdoor play a day compared to only 65 per cent of those in the US and 56 per cent worldwide. Guidelines from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recommends prisoners get at least an hour of open air exercise a day.
A third of those in the UK said their child plays outdoors for less than half an hour a day, compared to 18 per cent across the sample of countries and more than three times the proportion in India, South Africa, Indonesia and Brazil.
And 18 per cent of British parents admitted their child does not play outside on a typical day, four and a half times the rate seen in the developing countries surveyed.
But when asked why not the pattern was similar around the world.
The weather was the biggest reason given – by seven in 10 parents worldwide and 82 per cent in Britain – followed by a lack of parental time (31 per cent in the UK) and danger or safety fears, cited by 40 per cent of parents globally but only 23 per cent in the UK.
Meanwhile British parents estimated that their children spend 26 per cent on average of their free time inside in front of a screen, compared to 21 per cent across the sample, and only 12 per cent outdoors.
Sir Ken Robinson, an author and education expert, who is advising the project, said: “Academic research shows that active play is the natural and primary way that children learn.
“It is essential to their healthy growth and progress, particularly during periods of rapid brain development.
“Yet, too often play is disregarded as frivolous and pointless.
“Consequently, there’s a growing, and alarming, tendency to reduce time for active play in children’s lives – both at school and home.”
The findings came as a separate, academic, study concluded that how far children go in life could depend significantly on how much time their parents spend with them when they are very young.
A paper presented to the annual conference of the Royal Economic Society taking place in Brighton by Minchul Yum, an economist at Mannheim University in Germany, calculates that the time parents spend with their preschool children accounts for about 40 per cent of the lack of intergenerational social mobility in the US.
He concluded that investing time with young children can have a greater effect on their social advancement than channelling resources into boosting university applications.
Meanwhile a separate research paper, by experts at the University of Sussex, for the Department for Work and Pensions, found that children exposure to conflict between their parents can affect their long-term life chances as well as their mental health.