Study aims to improve physical activity levels in children

23 December 2015

A research project is working with childcare centres to promote healthy exercise patterns, with the aim of reducing childhood obesity .


Massey University and the University of Waikato have developed a partnership with BestStart Education and Care centres to introduce a weekly exercise programme for 155 pre-schoolers in South Auckland.


Throughout a 10-week period, the children at the centres participated in weekly exercise sessions provided by the Jumping Beans programme.


The sessions get the children to jump, balance, catch balls, and do forward roles in order to improve fitness and fundamental movement patterns. 


Centre teachers have been up-skilled in physical literacy and ways to provide better opportunities for children to be more physically active.


Additionally, Massey University is providing nutrition training to staff to boost awareness of the positive effects of a healthy diet for preschoolers.


Dr Ajmol Ali from Massey University’s School of Sport and Exercise says obesity rates in New Zealand children are increasing at an alarming rate.


“With more children enrolled in early childhood education centres, it’s becoming extremely important they are provided with appropriate physical activity and nutrition practices.


“The impact of these good practices will not only affect physical activity levels and promote better nutrition but may also enable improved sleep and better management of children. Research suggests children with better motor skills may have improved academic and cognitive abilities and also enhanced physical activity levels as adolescents and adults.”


Dr Ali says children’s opportunities to stay active are limited.


“There is a lack of focus in initial teacher education on physical education and nutrition. Teachers’ perceptions of risk and rigid playground regulations are creating ‘cotton wool children’.”


The most common barriers identified in a nationwide scoping report (Sport and Recreation New Zealand) were limited information, knowledge and skills of teachers, and their lack of confidence in providing a wide range of physical activity opportunities.