Promoting Children’s Physical Activity – Practical Guidelines for European Municipalities

28 guidelines were drawn up within the scope of the EU project “You need exercise! – Promoting children’s physical activity”. The guidelines reflect the perspective of experts in European municipalities in the fields of sports, health, youth for promoting physical activity among children up to the age of twelve.

Promoting Children’s Physical Activity – Practical Guidelines for European Municipalities

Childhood is the best time for people to learn. As children we can train skills that will last a lifetime – sustainable skills. Children have an intrinsic urge to move, which can only develop freely with appropriate physical activity offers. Unfortunately, many of our children suffer from a severe lack of exercise. The few opportunities for taking exercise are often coupled with the increased stimuli they have from television and computers. To give our children the best opportunities for their development and provide a high quality of life, exercise is becoming an ever more important component of their upbringing. Children more and more often need role models and guidance to lead an active daily life and to develop particular motor skills.

The responsibility for the healthy development of our children lies also with cities and municipalities. “You need exercise” – this is the motto of the appeal started by the cities of Athens, Innsbruck, Copenhagen, Rotterdam and Stuttgart under an EU project to promote more exercise among children. With this “You need exercise!” project, the partner cities want to exchange information on proven concepts, make other municipalities aware of this issue and initiate new programmes in local networks. Various best practice examples can be seen on the joint database (

Under this project, the aforementioned cities have taken on the task of developing a directive for cities and municipalities, which is now available to all municipalities as a practical guide for optimally promoting exercise among children. What has to be taken into consideration for a specific promotion of exercise among children? What areas are affected? What should the measures be targeted at? How can programmes be developed and implemented to be sensible and sustainable on a long-term basis? These are just a few questions that the cities have discussed with various experts to find answers based on their own experience to form a guideline.
The 28 guidelines give an overview of the various spheres of activity and recommended action, which should provide municipalities with an insight into how to promote exercise among children on an integrated basis. Help will be given in solving problems with practical advice and tried and tested processes to illustrate possible approaches. The subjects covered by the guidelines are comprehensive and range from politics through urban planning to tangible offers, networks and knowledge management (inter alia awareness among local politicians, co-ordinated action between relevant areas of policy-making, urban and traffic planning for exercise-friendly cities, sports venues, infrastructure and use, spaces for physical activity within a city, evidence-based promotion of physical activity).

“Cities for Sports” network

The “Cities for Sports” network should enable municipalities to exchange ideas and experiences with one another and to ensure the extensive involvement of local authorities in projects to promote physical activity in Europe.

For: “The last three decades have seen overweight and obesity rates rise dramatically in the EU, particularly among children, with a prevalence of overweight estimated at 30% in 2006. This shows an increasing trend towards poor diets and low physical activity levels across the EU population, which in turn indicates that in future there will be an increased incidence of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, stroke, certain types of cancer, musculoskeletal disorders and even a number of mental health conditions. In the long term, this will have a negative impact on life expectancy in the EU and impair the quality of many people’s lives.”
(White Paper on a strategy for Europe on nutrition, overweight and obesity related health issues)

Reasons for the above-mentioned developments: Media use among children has increased considerably in Europe over the past 20 years. This more intensive media use leads to an increase in the time children spend being sedentary each day (“domestication”). Children’s natural urge to move is severely restricted particularly in cities: few opportunities for exercise in the immediate neighbourhood and traffic planning geared towards facilitating private care use in the cities reduce children’s chance of incorporating physical activity into everyday life. Getting from A to B increasingly involves being taken there by car or using local public transport. Instead of an integrated living space which, by expanding in a series of ever-larger concentric circles, became more and more accessible to children and young people, we now have separate functional subspaces which we head for from our “residential island”: kindergarten, school, tennis court, ballet school, private tuition, sports club, etc.. This also reduces the chance of children getting a minimum daily dose of exercise by walking or cycling. Media, urban planning and transportation have always been an integral part of a modern society, but now they contribute significantly to children’s physical inactivity.

Approaches to counteract these adverse developments: Physical activity, along with nutrition, is the key factor to solving this central health problem in the EU. It has been scientifically proven that exercise not only has a positive effect on your health, but also a positive impact on cognitive development and performance. To have healthy, able-bodied citizens in the future, the aim of all municipalities must be to take appropriate action to get children in Europe exercising again and to ensure that physical activity becomes a part of their daily lives. Unfortunately, however, the general scientific recommendations and practical knowledge of some municipalities are neither consistently nor integrally included in the planning and implementation of preventive programmes yet.
The aim must be to make physical activity an integral part of children’s lives in European cities to promote their health and mental development and to incorporate it into programmes at a local level. For only few municipalities have a sustainable and comprehensive concept for promoting physical activity among children.
In various departments of European municipalities many people work on and develop strategies and appropriate measures. The guidelines are therefore directed specifically at policy-makers, decision-makers and those who implement these in the administrative sectors, such as health, youth, sports, education, etc., of the European municipalities. Moreover, the guidelines provide valuable information and tips for sports clubs and associations as well as other sports and fitness organisations.

With the “Cities for Sports” network, a platform has been established under the “You need exercise!” project which enables municipalities to exchange their experiences and discuss intersectoral approaches. An exchange of ideas and experiences on the topic of “Promoting Children’s Physical Activity” is necessary to learn about and become acquainted with successful measures. Via the online platform, municipalities can learn about the best ideas in Europe and join in the exchange of ideas. The experts from the “Cities for Sports” network hope that the guidelines will receive a great deal of attention from municipalities and provide them with fresh stimuli and incentives for comprehensive and specific promotion of physical activity among children within their scope of responsibility. The guidelines can point the way as a kind of compass and are, to this end, available on the online platform ( Here all users can make comments to enhance the exchange of information among experts in European municipalities. The guidelines are meant as a dynamic document that can be adjusted to suit the rapidly changing general social conditions. The planned network “Cities for Sports” will continue to discuss the promotion of physical activity among children by municipalities in Europe in the years to come to prepare the municipalities for the challenges they face and provide them with solutions.

By February 2011, more than 60 European municipalities have expressed their interest in a more intensive exchange of ideas and experiences in the “Cities for Sports” network. These municipalities represent some 20 million European citizens.


Lena Knorr, State Capital Stuttgart, Sports Department:
“In the ‘You need exercise!’ project we worked together on a local municipal level. All people involved are from practice. We have started an animated exchange of different approaches and activities in promoting children’s physical activity. This resulted in a collection of successful measures (online database). Through the interchange we got very useful input: we learned about different approaches, programmes and strategies of the others. Reflecting the work process of the project helped a lot to optimise the networking dialogue within Stuttgart. It certainly revealed that it requires the close cooperation of different institutions and organisations. We became aware that cross-sectoral and evidence-based work is the key factor to a successful and sustainable work. In Stuttgart, a new programme called ‘kitafit’ was developed with the target group being 3-6 year-old children. The ‘kitafit’ programme follows the criteria for a multilevel network approach.
The project phase is over, but we want to continue the started work as we have realised that we’ll need more time to exchange. Beyond that there are a lot more topics we would like to talk about. We also want to get more cities and their experiences involved which could be realised in a network “Cities for Sports”. We have only just started. Join us on”

Miltiadis Kalafatis, City of Athens, Department for public relations and international cooperation:
“Athens is a partner city in “You need exercise” because: 1. Regular physical activity helps improve overall health and fitness and reduces the risks for many psychological diseases. 2. Athletics improves one’s strength and feeling of well-being and helps keeping one’s both good health of the body and spirit as well. 3. Because living in modern cities, under present circumstances, brings about too much stress to young people and adults, which can be considerably reduced if one starts exercising various sport activities. Athens has since many years realized a Youth and Sports Agency, that manages more than two hundred (200) sports facilities located within the City of Athens - such as swimming pools, outdoor and indoor sports centers, gyms, football, volleyball, basketball, tennis and golf 5x5.”

Mikkel Emborg, City of Copenhagen, Culture and Leisure Administration:
“Our cooperation with Stuttgart, Rotterdam, Athens and Innsbruck in the EU-funded project "You need exercise" has as much to do with 1) promoting and enhancing the physical activity of children and youth, as it has to do with 2) networking with like-minded cities across Europe. The City of Copenhagen is aware of the fact that in the last thirty years the extent of overweight and obesity has drastically risen in the EU, particularly among children. Physical activity, along with nutrition, is the key factor to solving this central health problem in the EU. In that respect it is necessary to share knowledge in order to solve the problem of overweight and less physical activity - especially among children.
The City of Copenhagen is a large city in a relatively small country. It is therefore only natural that we look beyond the Danish borders for cooperation and knowledge-sharing with like-minded cities. We have an international approach since Copenhagen is both a city for its inhabitants, a capital (of Denmark) and an international city (with strong ties to the rest of Europe). This project - and the Cities for Sports network - can help us achieve stronger ties to other cities in Europe.”


Contact for questions or comments:
State Capital Stuttgart / Sports Department
Contact person for the guidelines: Andi Mündörfer, +49 711 216-85 89
Contact person for the “Cities for Sports” network: Lena Knorr, +49 711 216-45 44

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