The girls do an hour of activity a day outside school.
The girls do an hour of activity a day outside school.

Scales in classrooms to tackle obesity

PHYSICAL education in our schools is being radically overhauled to combat inactivity and obesity - including supplying classrooms with scales, asking schools to consider putting fitness levels in report cards and even splitting classes into single-sex groups to encourage self-conscious pupils to get active.

A NSW Health report on the new program notes that studies have found teachers can waste 30 per cent of physical education classes on administration tasks.

Claire Tompsett of North Shore running with sisters Phoebe 9, Heidi 11, and Mollie, 13, Arhens. Pictures. Phil Hillyard
Claire Tompsett of North Shore running with sisters Phoebe 9, Heidi 11, and Mollie, 13, Arhens. Pictures. Phil Hillyard

A new rule will require teachers to ensure their students are moving for at least half of the class's duration.

Splitting classes up into gender may encourage self-conscious students to get more involved in physical activity, while it is expected more non-competitive sports such as yoga and jogging will also be made available.

"The program aims to increase high school student physical activity and limit weight gain," a NSW Health spokeswoman said.

The NSW Government’s ideas.
The NSW Government’s ideas.

The groundbreaking Physical Activity For Everyone (PA4E1) program - aimed at pupils in Years 7-9 - has been endorsed by Health Minister Brad Hazzard, who says he wants it in every NSW school.

"The idea behind this program is to get young people and parents back to where we were probably 40 or 50 years ago," he said.

"Regularly doing activities that will really make long-term differences to their health.

"You don't have to be Einstein to know that exercise heads off a whole range of disease including diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular."

Georgina Arherns said exercise improved her daughters’ physical health as well as concentration at school.
Georgina Arherns said exercise improved her daughters’ physical health as well as concentration at school.

A trial of the program will run in 76 state and Catholic schools across the Hunter New England, Central Coast, mid-north coast and southwest Sydney regions this year.

Half the schools are supplied equipment and education for the program, with their subsequent results compared with students at the other schools.

Mr Hazzard also said he supported reporting a child's fitness alongside academic results to inform parents.

The program has already been successfully trialled in 10 schools.

PA4E1 creator and Hunter New England population health director Professor John Wiggers said during the trial children's daily physical activity "significantly "increased, up seven minutes from about 53 minutes to an hour.

"In the pilot there was not a reduction in weight because that may not be appropriate when children are still growing and developing, but there was significantly less increase in weight," he said.

Research shows children’s activity level drops between the ages of 13 and 18.
Research shows children’s activity level drops between the ages of 13 and 18.

Prof Wiggers said it was important to offer sports such as yoga for students "who weren't competitive-minded".

Schools are given $3000 worth of equipment to encourage activity at lunchtime.

Students even wear pedometers in PE class to measure how much movement they do.

Pupils also compile their own fitness plans and goals. Suggestions include a 2km run or 18 sit-ups before bed.

NSW Health warns the biggest decline in physical activity occurs between the ages of 13 and 18.

Research also shows that about 80 per cent of high school students spend more than two hours a day on screens and that one quarter of children in NSW are classified as overweight or obese.

On the topic of single-sex group training, Prof Wiggers said studies found gender separation was capable of boosting activity rates.

"There is some evidence that boys and girls prefer different types of physical activity and that they would prefer to engage in activity with their like gender because, particularly in adolescence. It's about being comfortable and sensitivity," he said.

North Shore Running's Claire Tompsett welcomed the new program.

"If you can get them into exercise at that age, then hopefully they will keep it up for life," she said.

Georgina Arhens' daughters Phoebe 9, Heidi, 11, and Mollie, 13, do at least an hour of physical activity each day, including at North Shore Running.

Ms Arherns said she found exercise improved her daughters' physical health as well as their concentration at school.

"Establishing the patterns early is really important. Year 7 is a great time as even by Year 8 and 9 you can see kids becoming less active," she said.

"They don't do much at school so we have to pack it in after school."



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