The age-old notion of Australia being a nation of active healthy kids has gone out the window.
Australian kids are now some of the least active in the world, and have again been graded a D-minus for physical activity according to the latest national report from the Active Healthy Kids Australia (AHKA) research group.
Dr Natasha Schranz, lead author of the Australian Report Card from the University of South Australia said the research showed that Aussie kids are failing to meet the basic physical activity guidelines that lead to lifelong health and well-being.
“What this means is less than one-in-five Australian children aged between 5-17 years meet the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day, despite a range of recommendations, initiatives and campaigns put in place in an attempt to improve the grade,” Schranz said in a statement.
“It seems many Australian children and parents just don’t know how or why they need to include physical activity in their daily lives.”
Adjunct professor, Trevor Shilton, Heart Foundation spokesperson on physical activity, said the results were “a real wake-up call” and that decisive action was needed.
“We must turn around these results or face the consequences and costs of an increasingly unhealthy population,” Shilton said.
The 2016 Physical Activity Report Card is part of a global network, which includes 38 countries all reporting on the physical activity levels of their nation’s children.
The global results to be presented in Bangkok on 16 November highlight that Australian children’s overall physical activity levels remained static at a D minus, but we are lagging behind countries such as New Zealand, Slovenia, Mexico and Brazil.
A ‘prescription for active kids’
Shilton said a ‘prescription for active kids’, a comprehensive approach is needed and would include as a minimum:
- Robust, mandatory, high quality physical education for all children K-12;
- Building physical activity into childcare services and early childhood centres;
- Extra funding to support physical activity, sport and recreation for kids;
- Prioritise safe walking and cycling infrastructure and safe road crossing
- Implement media and public education targeting parents, families and kids
- Public education and programs to help parents reduce kids’ screen time.
Excessive screen time may be a factor
Schranz told The Educator that while children spend a large amount of their time at school, they spend even more time in front of screens outside of school.
“We know that with evolving technology kids are spending lots of time in front of screens. In fact, more than two thirds of children aged 5-17 years are engaging in excess of two hours of screen time [for entertainment purposes] each day and are failing to meet the national screen time guidelines,” she said.
Schranz added that given the technological advances of society it is important that children be equipped with the skills they need to engage in a digital world but it is also just as equally important that schools look for ways to include more physical activity for students throughout their day.
“This should not just be through high quality physical education and school sport but also during recess and lunchtimes and by engaging kids in active lessons and lesson breaks,” she said.
“Schools need to be implementing high quality comprehensive physical activity policies that encourage, support and facilitate more physical activity throughout the day and they need to be supported by parents, communities, education departments and local, State and Federal governments to do so.”
Greater parental awareness needed
Schranz said that it is important that parents prioritise physical activity so that it no longer becomes a choice but “a way of life”, and is seen as something that children want to do for fun and enjoyment and better health and well-being.
“The activity kids should be doing doesn't need to be accumulated all in one session so it is important that parents incorporate small bouts of physical activity throughout the day where it is possible,” she said.
“So simple things like parking the car 1 km from school and walking or riding the rest of the way or spending 10 minutes outside with your children playing.”
She added that kids need to be allowed to develop all the tools they need in order to be active in life and so they should engage in not only structured or organised activities but also unstructured activities that let them explore and play.