Getting kids active

25 July 2011

"Today's child will spend far more time sitting in front of the TV and less time outdoors playing," says 3MT finalist Lauren Arundell.

Lauren Arundell from the Transform-Us! Project within C-PAN, the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, recently took part in Deakin University's Three Minute Thesis competition.

This is an edited version of her presentation.

I want you to think of a primary school child you know, a child that had just had their 8th or 9th birthday. Now compare this child to a child from 50 years ago, 20 years ago, even just 5 years ago and what are the differences in the types of activities they do on a daily basis?

Today’s child will spend far more time sitting in front of the TV, the computer, the Xbox and spend less time being active, less time outdoors playing, riding their bike, climbing trees. And because of this, today’s child will be heavier and be greater risk cardiovascular disease and diabetes even at their young age.

So, we need to identify times throughout the day where we can get these children off their seats and active. The challenge is when we think of a typical day for today’s children because they are swamped with opportunities to sit. They wake up eat breakfast at the table then watch TV before school. They are driven to school where they sit at their school desk for 3, 4 even 5 hours. But there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

2011 3MT - Lauren Arundell

Once 3.30 rolls around and that magical end of school bell rings, children are free from the restrictions that the school timetable places on them. After-school children may have some fantastic opportunities to be active as well as opportunities to be sedentary and so this period may play an important role in children meeting the recommended levels of physical activity and sedentary behaviour. However, what children are currently doing after-school isn’t well understood and that is where my PhD comes in things.

The first task I had to do was to define this period because at the moment the evidence is extremely inconsistent. Anywhere between 1pm and midnight is termed ‘after-school’. Now that I have defined the period and I know it occurs between 3.30-6pm, I’m going to use this definition to investigate and describe children’s after-school behaviours. How much time is spent being active and how much time is spent being sedentary? I am also going to look at the contribution this after-school period makes to children’s overall levels of physical activity and sedentary behaviour – what proportion of these behaviours is done between 3.30-6pm because we just don’t know this yet.

What we do know is that children’s behaviors change as they grow and develop but what happens to their after-school behaviour? I am going to follow these children up over three years to find this out– do they become more or less active after-school as they get older? And what happens to the contribution over time?

Finally, I want to know why children do what they do after-school. What factors determine their participation in physical activity and sedentary behaviour? Is it something personal such as their enjoyment or preference for these behaviours? Is there something in their social networks? Do their peers do it? Do their parents do it? Or is there something in their physical environment? Do they have access to an X-BOX? Do they have access to sporting equipment? Or most likely is it some combination of the three.

My PhD will provide a valuable understanding of children’s after-school behaviours and the factors influencing these, so that we can develop evidence based interventions that may help your primary school friend lead a healthier life.


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