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Differences between 9–11 year old British Pakistani and White British girls in physical activity and behavior during school recess

Tessa M Pollard1*, Yvonne C Hornby-Turner1, Adarshini Ghurbhurrun1 and Nicola D Ridgers2

Author Affiliations

1 Physical Activity Laboratory, Department of Anthropology, Durham University, Dawson Building, South Road, Durham, DH1 3LE, UK

2 Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, Deakin University, Burwood, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:1087  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-1087

Published: 18 December 2012



School recess provides an important opportunity for children to engage in physical activity. Previous studies indicate that children and adults of South Asian origin are less active than other ethnic groups in the United Kingdom, but have not investigated whether activity differs within the shared school environment. The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that British Pakistani girls aged 9–11 years are less active during recess than White British girls.


In Study One, the proportion of recess spent by 137 White British (N = 70) and British Pakistani (N = 67) girls in sedentary behavior, moderate-to-vigorous activity (MVPA) and vigorous activity (VPA) was determined using accelerometry. In Study Two, 86 White British (N = 48) and British Pakistani (N = 38) girls were observed on the playground using the System for Observing Children’s Activity and Relationships during Play (SOCARP). Accelerometry data were collected during observations to allow identification of activities contributing to objectively measured physical activity.


Accelerometry data indicated that British Pakistani girls spent 2.2% (95% CI: 0.2, 4.3) less of their total recess time in MVPA and 1.3% (95% CI: 0.2, 2.4) less in VPA than White British girls. Direct observation showed that British Pakistani girls spent 12.0% (95% CI: 2.9, 21.1) less playground time being very active, and 12.3% (95% CI: 1.7, 23.0) less time playing games. Time spent being very active according to direct observation data correlated significantly with accelerometer-assessed time spent in MVPA and VPA, and time spent playing games correlated significantly with accelerometer-assessed time spent in VPA, suggesting that differences in behavior observed in Study Two may have contributed to the differences in time spent in MVPA and VPA in Study One.


British Pakistani girls were less active than White British girls during school recess. Recess has been identified as a potentially important target for the delivery of physical activity interventions; such interventions should consider ways in which the activity levels of British Pakistani girls could be increased.

Physical activity; Recess; Playtime; South Asian; Pakistani; Ethnicity; Children; Girls; School; Accelerometry