Why should girls spend less time outdoors than boys?

Children in Britain spend just 16 minutes a day playing or exploring in parks and other open spaces, according to a detailed new study.

The figure, an average of time spent outdoors in parks, the countryside, the coast or seaside, includes excursions at weekends as well as weekdays.

Among children in their mid-teens it drops to ten minutes per day as younger children, aged between eight and 13, spend more time playing outdoors.

The figures, published by the Office for National Statistics, are the first to examine how children spend their free time and will be used to track engagement with the outdoors and sport.

Since the exercise has not been done before there are no direct figures for comparison with previous years but separate studies have highlighted a huge decline in the amount of time children spend outdoors.

A study published by the National Trust two years ago suggested that children were spending around half the time that their parents did playing and exploring outdoors. Research by Natural England, a government agency, published in 2016 found that 1.3 million children or 12 per cent had not visited the natural environment for a year.

The new findings analysed data collected between April 2014 to December 2015. It asked children aged between eight and 15 to complete time diaries on two days, one on a weekday and the other on a day at the weekend.

Boys spent slightly more time outside than girls (18 minutes a day, compared with 13 minutes a day) and children spend longer in parks or open spaces at weekends than on weekdays, but not by much (20 minutes per day, compared with 13 minutes).

Children spent an average of 68 minutes of their leisure time a day engaged in physical activity, including sport, cycling or walking. They spent 11 minutes a day on cultural or entertainment activities, such as historical sites, botanical gardens and playgrounds.

Boys were much more likely than girls to spend longer playing sports. Girls spend more time on average than boys playing with household pets or gardening, but in every other category were significantly less active than boys.

A separate report on children’s viewing habits by Childwise, a research agency, found that young people aged between five and 15 were spending two-and-a-half hours a day viewing programmes, videos and clips. For the first time it said children were spending longer watching footage on smart phones, tablets and laptops than on television sets.