School physical education programs are the place to score in the battle with obesity and can deliver enormous future health gains according to a University of Queensland study.
Researchers from the School of Human Movement Studies at UQ, believe the focus of school physical education (PE) should be to nurture “physical literacy” and PE should be compulsory from preschool to Year 12.
“If governments are serious about improving public health, children need to develop a lifelong acceptance of physical activity as an enjoyable and important part of life,” Head of the School, Professor Doune Macdonald, said.
“The old ‘skills and drills’ PE classes should be replaced by sessions that have a strong recreational focus and include a range of activities to interest children who are not athletes.”
Professor Macdonald and PhD student Jessica Lee have been studying the place of health, physical activity, and physical culture in young people’s lives, as part of a national longitudinal study begun in 1999.
The Life Activity Project involves 79 young males and females from a range of educational, geographic and cultural backgrounds, and has shown current policies are not working on the section of community that stands to gain most from exercise.
“The health of people in the lower socioeconomic groups in our communities could be improved with a higher level of physical activity, yet this is the group where we are finding less participation,” Ms Lee said.
“This is particularly the case for young people in more isolated areas.”
Professor Macdonald said school PE classes were often not available to students at a critical stage.
“Classes are no longer compulsory at the very point in time when they are most important and at the time when young people are more likely not to want to participate,” she said.
She said for many children and young people, PE was the only time they get to be physically active.
The research suggests rather than a sole focus on the skills required for traditional sports, children and young people should have the opportunity to learn different activities of interest to them in PE classes.
She said children should be able to enjoy these activities without having a highly competitive approach such as martial arts, touch football, dancing and even walking.