SPORTS & PHYSICAL EDUCATION
Physical activity is not only important for physical health of children and young people in schools but also for their mental health, wellbeing, and learning ability.
“RESEARCH SHOWS CHILDREN CAN SPEND LESS TIME ON ACADEMIC LEARNING, AND MORE TIME BEING PHYSICALLY ACTIVE DURING THE SCHOOL DAY, WITHOUT AFFECTING THEIR ACADEMIC SUCCESS OR PROGRESS.”
THE University of Canberra Professor Dick Telford has an impressive resume.
Professor Telford is a Professorial Fellow at the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise, an Adjunct Professor at the College of Medicine, Biology and Environment and is the running coach of the Australian National University.
He was the also the first sports scientist employed by the Australian Institute of Sport and the 2017 ACT Senior Australian of the Year winner.
With more than 40 published peer reviewed articles, Professor Telford is a renowned expert on the effects of physical activity and education of school children.
Professor Telford was the research director of the Lifestyle of Our Kids (LOOK) Study of 734 Australian children between eight and 12, which found that the main difference between lean and overweight children was that lean children were more physically active.
The LOOK study had two purposes; first to investigate the effect of physical education in primary schools on the physical and psychological health and growth of children, and secondly, to look at physical activity and fitness’s role during early childhood and adolescence on quality of life in middle and old age.
“There’s going to be around four billion people over the age of 85 by the time these kids get to the age of 85 – that’s a lot of Australians,” Professor Telford said.
“Quality of life in old age is a big issue now, but it’s going to be huge in 50 years’ time.
“Not just economically but emotionally when people are trying to make do, living older and being propped up by technology.
“We want to see whether physical activity makes an impact on that.
“We think it does but we have to show the government that it would.”
The LOOK study formed the basis for the Physical Education Physical Literacy (PEPL) trial, which aimed to develop fitness and physical education from an early age to improve the physical literacy of primary school aged children.
With rising rates of obesity among children and youth, the trial was timely and highlighted the need for physical activity as well as nutritional guidelines.
“Based on our work, we know that energy in and energy expenditure are both going to impact body composition and a critical factor is children being able to balance energy in and out,” Professor Telford said.
The LOOK study assessed 800 children, following them from age eight to 12.
Professor Telford said that while nutrition was an important factor, physical activity was extremely important.
“The kids who were becoming leaner had better control over their body composition, naturally healthy kids, and when we looked at the diet and the physical activity of the kids who were leaner they actually ate fractionally less sugar, less fat and less calories,” he said. “They ate no more.
“We concluded that physical activity was a very important driver in maintaining body composition in our kids.”
Although physical activity was a driving factor, the impacts of nutrition cannot be overlooked.
The NSW Health Department recently told a parliamentary inquiry that at least one in five school students were overweight or obese, with only 28 per cent of children adequately active.
These figures and rising rates of obese children with associated physical and mental health issues are concerning.
A concentrated effort needs to be made to address nutrition and physical education in schools nationwide.
Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (ACHPER) national executive director Alison Turner said that while nutrition was part of the National Curriculum, ACHPER would support funding of a National Nutritional program for students to provide professional development for teachers.
ACHPER played a role in curriculum development, publishing resources materials and organised and developed professional development for teachers of health, physical education and sport.
The council worked with National Sporting Organisations (NGOS), the ASC and reached out to more than 9000 schools throughout Australia, advocating for quality health, PE and sport being a vital component in schools to develop student health and wellbeing.
Recent data from the Active Health Kids Association National Physical Activity
report card suggested there needs to be a renewed focus on getting kids active and healthy, but the issue of obesity was complex and involved families, schools and communities.
“The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) in conjunction with NSOS has offered opportunities to be part of a health promotion initiative that actually addresses some of these health issues,” Ms Turner said.
The $100 million Sporting Schools program was a collaboration between the Federal Government, the ASC and about
The program was offered to more than
5000 schools in 2016 and reached more than 1 million students.
Sporting Schools broadened the traditional notion of sport to get more children involved and offered online resources, lesson plans and coaches to increase participation in before and after school sports.
The initiative provided grants to deliver sporting activities and to co-ordinate sporting organisation, coaches and teachers to deliver programs.
“It’s a really great contribution to student health and wellbeing, but schools and teachers offer sustainable opportunities for students to learn about health choices from an educative, strength-based point of view,” Ms Turner said.
“Sporting Schools and other programs are engaging parent and community support and offer children opportunities to build on that, but the educative value of a Health and Physical Education curriculum (with sport included) is going to empower students to make choices.”
The ASC was also responsible for the Clearinghouse for Sport; a knowledge sharing initiative which had shown compelling evidence that increased levels of physical activity could bring wide ranging health benefits that extend beyond the physical.
“We found that with children who do not get proper physical education in primary schools, and that’s the majority of public primary school children in Australia, go in to secondary school with higher levels of cholesterol, higher risk factors for type two diabetes, and inferior bone development particularly in girls,” Professor Telford said.
“The real clincher we found, is that the children who spent more time in physical education (60-90 minutes more per week than the control group) between Year 3 and
6 actually improved their NAPLAN scores of around 10-13 points more than children who spent more time in the classroom.
“When we talked to the teachers in the PEPL study and the LOOK study, they actually said, even before I gave them those results, that the kids were concentrating better in class when they had completed their physical education.”
Research showed children could spend less time on academic learning, and more time being physically active during the school day, without affecting their academic success or progress.
The results may be due to the specific way in which the physical education classes ended.
The Blue Earth Foundation, which supplied physical education programs to schools, sat the children down for a quiet period of reflection after the activities.
The students would then go back to class having cooled down and were mentally prepared for more classwork.
With abundant research from Professor Telford and his team showing the correlation between physical activity and improved learning, it seemed unusual that there was no mandatory requirement of sport and physical education in schools across Australia or a National Physical Activity Strategy.
Some States and Territories have more required hours of physical education than others, with the average around two hours per week.
“Around the States there is a wide variation of the hours of health, physical education, sport and physical activity,” Ms Turner said.
“Local support for quality physical education through the employment of Physed specialist teachers and also the professional development for classroom teachers to deliver the current HPE curriculum vary.”
In March, the national forum for health and physical education (HPE) curriculum was held in Brisbane and discussions were held on stages of development and implementation nationally and across a State and Territory context.
“ACHPER work on a national basis to advocate for the Australian curriculum but it’s important to understand that the States and Territories are responsible for implementing in the local context,” Ms Turner said.
Professor Telford was not too concerned about the different education systems around the country as long as kids were physically active.
“People have got to understand the real value of physical education,” Professor Telford said.
“40-50 per cent of kids are deemed to be overweight for their age and a lot of them aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables.
“What we’ve got to do now get children involved in quality physical education in primary schools.”
Another aspect of the LOOK study Professor Telford had not yet widely publicised, was that all the affects in childrens’ health and fitness came about without an overall increase in physical activity habitually during the week – they simply got two sessions of physical education every week at school.
“Just doing physical education twice a week, where the kids are having fun and playing games and learning for two lots of forty five minute sessions each week for 30 weeks during the year over the four year trial produced these results, “he said.
Physical activity could improve cognitive functioning, memory, concentration, behaviour and academic achievement, while inactivity could negatively impact brain health, inhibition, working memory and cognitive flexibility (multi-tasking), which is considered vital to success at school, work and throughout life.
The LOOK study was the only four year global randomised control trial that looked at all the factors and Professor Telford believed it was powerful information to go to politicians with.
Rather than burden the education system by adding an expensive extra physical education teacher in every school, Professor Telford and his team trialled putting a physical literacy coach in a group of eight schools, which so far had the same effect as an additional specialist physical education teacher would.
“This physical literacy coach coaches the classroom teachers to teach physical education better and we want to see if by professional development of the teachers, can we bring up the standard of physical education to approach what we found in the LOOK study,” Professor Telford said.
The role of the coach was to motivate and professionally develop teachers to be more effective in their physical education, to make effective links with the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) Sporting Schools and community sport, as well as engage with principals and school staff to develop a social climate with physical activity well and truly in the middle.
Professor Telford was currently running a physical literacy coach trial in Geelong, and if it produced good results, he planned to take it to the Education Department who have the option of rolling out the physical literacy program throughout Victoria, with the hope it appealed to other States around the country.
“That’s how we can solve the issue of obesity, by concentrating on kids enjoying physical activity and developing a much more physically active lifestyle because they enjoy it,” he said.
“We talk about this as being a physically literate child.”
“THAT’S HOW WE CAN SOLVE THE ISSUE OF OBESITY, BY CONCENTRATING ON KIDS ENJOYING PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND DEVELOPING A MUCH MORE PHYSICALLY ACTIVE LIFESTYLE BECAUSE THEY ENJOY IT.”
The Look study investigates the effects of physical activity in young Australians.
2017 ACT Senior Australian of the Year Professor Dick Telford.