Kids’ fitness, or a lack of it, is at crisis point, and the fitness industry needs to be proactive and do something about it, says Executive Director of Australian Fitness Network, Nigel Champion.
The number of overweight Australian children has doubled since the 1980’s. Their waistlines have expanded as a result of the accessibility of fast foods, sugar-loaded drinks (boys aged between 14 and 18 consume an average 21 teaspoons of sugar a day), couch-based entertainment and lack of activity.
In addition to the health impacts, considerable research suggests that school children who don’t participate in daily physical activity don’t perform as well in the classroom.
Much of the blame can be placed on the fact that quantity and quality of physical education offered in Australian public primary and high schools is on the decline. At the primary school level, there are no specialist physical education teachers, with general teachers required to deliver the mandatory 6 to 10 per cent of PE curriculum, and research shows this allocation to be rarely met. At high school level, there are specialist PE teachers, but PE time on the curriculum is increasingly under pressure due to the heavy emphasis on academic results. In addition, school sport is no longer mandatory, with responsibility shifted to parents and local sporting associations.
The benefits of quality physical education and school sport go way beyond the development of physical skills. Children who are physically active on a daily basis have better movement and co-ordination skills, improved cognitive performance, greater attention span and better memory.
An interesting piece of research involving over 19,000 students in a district of Chicago backed this up. The school district had a crisis on its hands: 30 per cent of students were overweight and the majority had poor academic results. The focus of the study was to measure the impact of a structured physical activity program before, during and after school. Heart rate monitors were used to monitor exercise intensity for all body types and fitness levels. To establish a baseline measure for academic performance prior to the implementation of the exercise program, the students sat an international maths and science competition – as expected, they performed poorly.
When the students were tested two years later, only 3 per cent were considered overweight, and when they re-sat the academic competition they came first in the world in science and sixth in maths. The only thing that was manipulated was the amount of physical activity they did each day at school.
It’s a ‘no brainer’ – daily vigorous physical activity not only reduces obesity in school children, it also increases their academic performance. As an industry we cannot ignore these facts. We should reach out to schools in our communities to offer our support and expertise, perhaps in the form of free before- and after-school workouts. Remember, if you give a little to your community, it will reward you many times over.