Five reasons why we urgently need to assist schools to improve their capacity to deliver the Health and PE curriculum and develop a culture that embraces physical literacy.
Physical education and physical activity have a big impact on academic achievement and NAPLAN results
The Evidence: The Australian Lifestyle of our kids (LOOK) research (www.look.org.au) showed that children who undertook 90 minutes of good quality physical education per week improved their NAPLAN numeracy scores by 10 points more than those undertaking “usual” physical education and sport; and reading and writing improvements were in the same direction (1). The LOOK study also found evidence that schools with fitter children achieved proportionately better NAPLAN scores (2).
A huge concern: 21st century Australian children enter secondary school with avoidable early risk of chronic disease.
The Evidence: In public schools of mid-range socio-economic status, at the end of year 6, approximately 30% of children have: at-risk insulin resistance and increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in later life (3); 20% at-risk LDL cholesterol and at increased risk of cardiovascular disease (4); and recently extracted unpublished data shows that 20% of 12 year-olds were measured with elevated blood pressures of concern. We are all aware of the general data across Australia indicating that 25-50% of Australian children are overweight or obese and around 75% don’t meet physical activity recommendations.
Well-conducted physical education can reduce incidence of early symptoms of chronic disease
The Evidence: The LOOK study showed that well-conducted PE in primary school reduced the incidence of early symptoms of chronic disease by a third (3,4). To put this in context, using the risk of Type 2 diabetes as an example, in a cohort of 45,000 children enrolled in grade 6 in our government primary schools, 15,000 children are likely to have elevated insulin resistance. Had the PEPL approach been implemented, 3,300 of these children would have been spared this increased risk. A similar risk reduction occurs for cardiovascular disease.
4. The majority of Australian primary schools don’t have the capacity to deliver the quality or quantity of PE to meet curriculum requirements.
The Evidence: The majority of primary schools have at most one Health and PE specialist who teaches just one class per child per week. Classroom teachers already under time pressure, report that they don’t have the competence, confidence or training to teach Health and PE. When we consider that the Health and PE curriculum is far more comprehensive than just providing physical activity (it also includes health, safety, nutrition and wellbeing), one Health and PE specialist per school is clearly insufficient.
5. Lack of physical activity is a major driver of childhood obesity across the general community.
The Evidence: A careful objective study showed that in a typical sample of primary school children, those who were overweight or obese actually did not eat more kilojoules, sugar or fat but were less active. This suggests that more active children are able to balance their energy input and output better (5). Of relevance to the PEPL approach, improving teachers’ ability to deliver Health and PE will ensure more quality physical activity within classes (6). Rolling out the PEPL approach in Australian schools will have a significant impact on the incidence of childhood obesity.
Telford, R. D., Cunningham, R. B., Fitzgerald, R., Olive, L. S., Prosser, L., Jiang, X., & Telford, R. M. (2012). Physical education, obesity, and academic achievement: A 2-year longitudinal investigation of Australian elementary school children. American Journal of Public Health, 102(2), 368–374.
Telford, R. D., Cunningham, R. B., Telford, R. M., & Abhayaratna, W. P. (2012). Schools with fitter children achieve better literacy and numeracy results: Evidence of a school cultural effect. Pediatric Exercise Science, 24, 45–57.
Telford, R. D., Cunningham, R. B., Telford, R. M., Daly, R. M., Olive, L. S., & Abhayaratna, W. P. (2013). Physical education can improve insulin resistance: The LOOK randomized cluster trial. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 45(10), 1956–1964.
Telford, R. D., Cunningham, R. B., Waring, P., Telford, R. M., Olive, L. S., & Abhayaratna, W. P. (2013). Physical Education and Blood Lipid Concentrations in Children: The LOOK Randomized Cluster Trial. PLoS ONE, 8(10). http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0076124
Telford RD, Cunningham RB, Telford RM, Riley M, Abhayaratna WP. Determinants of childhood adiposity: evidence from the Australian LOOK study. PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e50014. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050014. Epub 2012 Nov 21.
Telford, R. M., Olive, L. S., Cochrane, T., Davey, R., & Telford, R. D. (2016). Outcomes of a four-year specialist-taught physical education program on physical activity : a cluster randomized controlled trial, the LOOK study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act, 1–11.