Strategy transforms classes
Whether it be using timers to measure sitting time, taking a break to use sports equipment during class, or another activity that takes them off their seats, Victorian primary school students are in for a more active future, thanks to an initiative led by a Deakin University team and its partners.
Through a successfully trialled program, called Transform-Us! the researchers and their partners found that reducing sitting by only 30 minutes a day has significant health benefits for children.
The Transform-Us! trial involved 1600 children, aged 8 and 9, in 20 Victorian schools over 2 ½ years.
It will now be rolled out across the state, as a result of a major five-year grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Project leader Jo Salmon, who is Deakin’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition co-director, said Transform-Us! had achieved an hour of extra activity during recess and lunch breaks, and 2.8 hours less sitting time for participants each week.
“Four out of five Australian children currently fail to meet physical activity guidelines, putting their present and future health at risk,” Professor Salmon said. ‘With that additional activity, we saw improvements in the children’s body mass index, waist circumference, cholesterol levels and improved levels of vitamin D.”
For the next phase of implementation, the partners will aim to disseminate the program to all 1786 primary schools across the state.
It will be implemented by the Department of Education and Training, Vic Health, Victorian Independent Schools, Victorian Principals’ Association, the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation Victorian Branch, and Peak Phys Ed.
The effectiveness of the program will be evaluated by the Deakin researchers.
Prof Salmon said an important innovation of Transform Us! was that, rather than targeting physical education classes, it focused on class time, lunch and recess breaks, and after school times.
Teachers are provided with strategies to incorporate activity during class and homework periods, whether it be moving around the room to measure furniture, walking down the street for geography homework, or the myriad other ways they can learn out of their seats.
While schools are given “ownership” as to how they introduce the changes, recommended initiatives include: signage promoting physical activity in the playground, classroom sets of sports/circus equipment, timers to monitor extended sitting, standing easels, two-minute active breaks every 30 minutes of seated class time, a 30-minute standing lesson every day and active homework.
“For almost 70 per cent of the school day, children are sitting down,” Prof Salmon said.
“Teachers and parents may think that incorporating regular activity during class time will disrupt the class but, in fact, it has the opposite effect.”
“It helps to refocus the students. Children are not designed to be sedentary for hours at a time.”
Apart from strong evidence of the benefits of regular physical activity, recent research shows a correlation between prolonged sitting in childhood and increased risk of conditions in adulthood such as obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Increased activity also has benefits for cognitive outcomes, including scholastic performance, class behaviour and mental health.
“Our hope is that our findings will illustrate the eff ectiveness of this program at scale, so it can be rolled out nationally and become part of routine best practice in all Australian schools,” Prof Salmon said.
Featured image: As it appeared in the Geelong Advertiser, Friday 15th July 2016