For the HSE 2012, a sample of 1,732 unique children were included in the present analysis, of which 50% were female. Table 1 presents means of total and domain-specific MET mins per week by individual factors for the HSE 2012. For the HSE 2015, 5,346 unique individuals were entered into the analysis, of which 49% were female. Table 2 presents means of total and domain-specific MET mins per week by individual factors for the HSE 2015. The data are presented in separate tables as, while the means and standard deviations broadly correspond across datasets, the inclusion of school physical activity within HSE 2015 renders the estimates not directly comparable. Comparisons between HSE 2012 and 2015 data reveal that although occasional differences are observed between isolated subgroups, no systematic differences occur between survey iterations.
Effect by sex
For the HSE 2012, boys reported higher total levels of physical activity than girls (t1732 = 4.86, p < 0.001). There were only minor differences between boys and girls on totals for active travel and non-specific physical activity, with no specific differences emerging when stratified by age group. Boys accrued a higher percentage of physical activity from formal sports than girls (t1674 = 5.47, p < 0.001), while girls conversely recruited a higher percentage of physical activity from informal activities than boys (t1674 = -2.83, p = 0.005), although boys still reported higher absolute levels of informal physical activity (t1730 = 3.15, p = 0.005). When stratified by age group, informal activity only differed significantly between sexes within the 13- to 15-year-old group, but formal activity showed large differences between sexes in all school-age groups, with boys consistently achieving more informal activity and total physical activity than girls.
A similar pattern was observed within the HSE 2015 data, with boys reporting significantly higher physical activity levels than girls on total MET mins per week including (t5436 = 7.29, p < 0.001) and excluding (t5436 = 7.19, p < 0.001) school physical activity. These differences between boys and girls largely persisted when stratified by age. Boys again recruited a higher percentage of total physical activity than girls from formal activity (t5122 = 10.30, p < 0.001). The remaining domains of active travel, non-specific, informal, and school physical activity showed little variation by sex.
Effect by age
Within the HSE 2012, age predicted outcomes on total MET minutes per week, and on all domain specific physical activity, controlling for sex. Overall, age was positively correlated with active travel, non-specific, and formal physical activity, but negatively with total and informal physical activity. Domain-specific contributions from each domain to total MET minutes per week are presented in Fig. 1. Further analyses were run stratifying for sex, finding age a significant predictor of all domain-specific outcomes. However, while age was a predictor of total MET minutes per week for girls (F4 = 6.42, p < 0.001) it was not for boys (F4 = 1.19, p = 0.312).
For the HSE 2015 data, age again predicted outcomes on total MET minutes per week, both including and excluding school physical activity, and predicted all domains of physical activity. Age was once more positively correlated with totals for active travel, non-specific physical activity, formal activity, and for school-based activity, and was negatively correlated with informal activity and total MET minutes per week both including and excluding the contribution from school time. Domain-specific contribution to total MET minutes per week is presented in Fig. 2. Age remained a predictor for all domains when stratifying by sex; however, and while total activity differed significantly by age for girls (F4 = 17.48, p < 0.001), this was not the case for boys (F4 = 1.47, p = 0.208).
The HSE 2015 incorporated a measure of physical activity within curriculum time, the first time this had been included in any HSE iteration. The relative contributions of school activity are shown in Fig. 2, stratified by age and sex. There were significant differences in school physical activity levels for both sexes, with age predicting differences in school-based MET minutes per week for both boys (F4 = 106.54, p < 0.001) and girls (F4 = 101.30, p < 0.001).
Effect by weight status
For the HSE 2012 data, weight status did not predict either total MET minutes per week (F2,7 = 0.85, p = 0.428) nor any domain-specific total, nor did any significant effects emerge when stratifying by sex. On the HSE 2015, weight status significantly predicted total MET minutes per week both including (F2,7 = 6.04, p = 0.002) and excluding (F2,7 = 6.10, p = 0.002) school activity, which persisted for girls (F = 4.20, p = 0.015), but not boys (F2,6 = 2.19, p = 0.112), when stratifying by sex. Increasing weight status also predicted reductions in informal activity (F2,6 = 4.82, p = 0.008). When stratifying by sex, girls (F = 5.37, p = 0.005), but not boys (F2,6 = 0.91, p = 0.402), retained a significant effect for informal activity, with no specific effect by gender on formal activity.
Effect by deprivation
Within the HSE 2012, total MET minutes per week did not differ by QIMD for boys or girls. Neither were there significant effects for QIMD across domain-specific totals except for formal physical activity, which differed significantly (F4,9 = 3.98, p < 0.001), an effect which persisted when stratified by sex for girls (F4,8 = 4.78, p < 0.001), but not boys (F4,8 = 1.24, p = 0.292).
For HSE 2015, total MET minutes per week varied by QIMD category when including (F4,9 = 2.38, p = 0.049) or excluding (F4,9 = 2.55, p = 0.037) school activity, although neither effect persisted when stratifying for sex. Increasing QIMD was negatively associated non-specific, formal, and school activity levels, but positively associated with levels of informal activity. Stratification by sex revealed differences persisted on all domains of activity, except for active travel and school-based activity.
Effect by ethnicity
Within the HSE 2012, participants from different identified ethnicities showed a significant variation on total MET minutes per week (F4,9 = 6.02, p < 0.001) when controlling for age and sex. At domain level, there were no large differences on active travel or non-specific activity levels but there were effects on formal (F4,9 = 5.83, p < 0.001) and informal (F4,9 = 4.54, p = 0.001) activity.
For the HSE 2015, different identified ethnicities showed a significant variation on total MET minutes per week both when including (F4,9 = 28.97, p < 0.001) and excluding (F4,9 = 28.12, p < 0.001) school activity, when controlling for age and sex. There were significant effects for all domain-specific totals, which persisted when stratified by sex except for boy’s active travel (F4,8 = 0.79, p = 0.533) and school activity (F4,8 = 0.59, p = 0.667).
Stratified analysis by levels of physical activity
In addition to the above analyses of the whole survey sample, it is possible to stratify the responses according to levels of physical activity to provide a more nuanced description of the data and extending the work of Payne, Townsend . Stratifying the HSE 2012 cohort by levels of physical activity reveals the relative contributions from each domain of physical activity to total MET minutes per week for activity-based quintiles of the population. For the HSE 2015 data, all domain-specific contributions showed significant regression effects by physical activity quintile when controlling for age and sex, effects which persisted when stratifying by sex. There were no statistically significant differences between survey years on comparable domains, although considerable variation appears when represented graphically. The percentage contributions across both HSE 2012 and HSE 2015 from comparable domains are presented in Fig. 3, with further data specifically including school activity from HSE 2015 presented in Fig. 4.
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