Not for the first time, researchers have made the case for Britain moving its clocks forwards an hour to match mainland Europe. Apparently, aligning our clocks with Paris and Berlin could benefit our children’s health.

The idea is that lighter evenings would increase the amount of time kids spent outside playing. The study suggests every child’s moderate-to-vigorous physical activity would go up by two minutes per day.

Doesn’t sound a lot? The scientists thought you’d say that – but they insist the amount is “not trivial”. It all adds up.

How did they reach these very precise figures?

Kite flying at sunset
(Hatem Moussa/AP)

The researchers compared 23,000 children aged five to 16 in England, Australia, the US, Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Switzerland, Brazil, and the Portuguese island of Madeira.

To test the effect of daylight on activity levels, the children wore accelerometers – electronic devices that measure body movement.

And what were the results?

empty playground
(Mulea Catalin/Demotix)

The experiments showed that children’s total daily activity levels were 15% to 20% higher on summer days when the sun set after 9pm than on winter days when darkness fell before 5pm.

This was especially true in European and Australian populations, even after adjustments for weather conditions and temperature.

Children play in fountain
Of course in summer it’s not just brighter – it’s warmer too (Richard Gray/EMPICS)

Lead researcher Dr Anna Goodman, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “This study provides the strongest evidence to date that, in Europe and Australia, evening daylight plays a role in increasing physical activity in the late afternoon and early evening – the ‘critical hours’ for children’s outdoor play.

“Introducing additional daylight savings measures would affect each and every child in the country, every day of the year, giving it a far greater reach than most other potential policy initiatives to improve public health.”

So what are the Government doing about it?

Sunset climbing net
(Hasan Jamali/AP)

A Bill on shifting the clocks forward for all or part of the year was debated in Parliament between 2010 and 2012 but never become law.

But the proposals would have given children an estimated 200 extra waking daylight hours per year, said the scientists.

Several Australian states have also held referenda on the topic. In 2008 some Aussies even created a single-issue political party, “Daylight Saving for South-East Queensland”.

Queensland sunset
Dusk in Queensland (thinboyfatter/Flickr)

Naturally, the researchers don’t want to portray more daylight as a magic bullet for childhood obesity and inactivity.

Co-author Professor Ashley Cooper, from the University of Bristol, said: “While the introduction of further daylight savings measures certainly wouldn’t solve the problem of low physical activity, we believe they are a step in the right direction.”

The findings appear in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity.