One in three children at their peak ages of physical activity never takes part in lunchtime or after-school activities and seldom walks more than they have to. Girls are a particular concern.
Fresh baseline fitness and health figures on 10 and 11-year-olds in six Highland schools confirm the general view that too many young people are not active enough for their own good.
Councillors were yesterday (Thursday) told that the fitness of girls and boys is low and that the authority faces a challenge to meet its commitment to improving the health of the region over the next decade and more.
Some 270 pupils were put through a test to assess their aerobic fitness, answered questions about their condition and were introduced to activities such as golf, rugby and dance.
In the shuttle run test, one in six chose to stop running after less than 200 metres and most were girls. Some were unable to manage even 120 metres.
The test reveals that P7 girls on average can run 480 metres while boys run 760 metres. It involves children running a 20-metre course in time to a sound cue which measures their ability to keep running as they become increasingly tired.
A follow-up questionnaire filled in by 213 pupils shows that 40 per cent take part in lunchtime or after-school activities about once a week and nearly 18 per cent two to three times a week, but 33 per cent not at all.
Sixty-seven per cent say they walk more than 15 minutes every day but many others only exceed that limit a couple of times a week.
National fitness targets aim for at least an hour a day of physical activity in school and out. The Highland returns show that a third of pupils are not doing that, although more than 40 per cent say they spend more than an hour every weekday on sport.
Highland officials point out that it is too early to compare the small sample with any national results, although the data confirms the need to increase activity levels for some children. It will be used to steer the council's health programme, Your Choice to Fitness.
Nationally, Dave Collins, professor of physical education and sports performance at Edinburgh University, believes Eurofit tests, which measure other aspects such as strength, balance and flexibility, provide a better all-round picture of fitness than the shuttle run.
Professor Collins insists: "It requires a multi-agency approach. You need to look at the school, local clubs, the quality of provision and physical prowess to hit part of the problem," he says. Strategies have to focus on persuading young people to continue activity into adulthood.