Physical activity is crucial for a child’s development and lays the foundation for a healthy and active life. Children are becoming overweight and obese due to poor food choices and an increasing sedentary lifestyle (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2010). High calorie food and increased indoor activity, such as watching television or computer games, are fuelling the unhealthy lifestyle epidemic in children. Physical activity in middle childhood, (8 to12 year olds), is a crucial component in addressing and preventing this crisis, and it appears that schools in conjunction with teachers have a large role to play.
Research (NSW Health/SPANS, 2006) has shown that obesity has increased over the last 20 years in Australian school children aged 7 to16 years. Poor nutrition and lack of physical activity is seen as the leading cause.
Children who are overweight or obese are likely to suffer serious social and behavioural issues (i.e. bullied and teased at school), as well as poor fitness
levels, body image issues, increased prevalence of Type 2 diabetes, heat intolerance, breathlessness on exertion, tiredness, flat feet and sleep problems leading to academic difficulties (Covic, Roufeil & Dziurawiec 2007). Several studies have also suggested that cardiovascular risk factors and lifestyle behaviours track from childhood and adolescence to adulthood (Shilton & Naughton, 2001).
Regular physical activity in middle childhood produces a positive effect on all stages of their development. Physical exercise helps to build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints, improve posture, balance and flexibility, enhance coordination skills as well as develop efficient heart and lung functioning (McDevitt, 2010). It also benefits a child’s social skills, improving their confidence and self-image, (especially in girls), reducing stress, and increased concentration. Physically active young people are more likely to adopt other healthy behaviours (e.g. avoidance of tobacco, alcohol and drug use) and demonstrate higher academic performance at school (World Health Organisation [WHO], 2011).
While Covic et al. (2007) discussed that the community generally perceives childhood obesity as an issue to be addressed at the family level, others feel it is a whole-of-community concern and therefore prevention and education should be a combined effort across all sectors of the community including teachers, schools, GP’s, education and local government authorities, non- government agencies and the wider public, voluntary and community sectors, parents and carers, (Bauman et al, 2002).
A national approach of mixed strategies is thought to yield optimal results in reducing the incidence of obesity at the population level. Policies, resources, projects and campaigns designed to promote three key issues; 1) physical activity, 2) nutrition and healthy eating and 3) mental health and well-being, are thought to produce the greatest health benefit.
School curriculum programs and policies should...