Schools are a key setting for the promotion of physical activity as they reach almost all students on an on-going basis. Despite this school-based interventions to improve girls’ physical activity have reported mixed effects. While effective interventions exist, they often rely on considerable resources and expertise that are uncommon in primary schools. Further such interventions require significant ongoing investment by governments in order to be maintained long-term, and so are often overlooked by policy makers as credible options for large scale dissemination. Furthermore, evaluation of international efforts attempting to scale up intensive physical activity interventions have found them to be ineffective due to difficulties in their implementation.Simple interventions that are effective, scalable and low cost are urgently needed if population rates of physical activity among girls are to be improved.
A consistently reported impediment to girl’s physical activity at school is the impracticality of their uniforms. Within Australia most schools require girls to wear a traditional uniform (i.e. a dress/tunic with socks/stockings and black leather shoes). A 2012 qualitative study of 54 primary school children from six South Australian schools found that girls reported that their uniform significantly limited their ability to be active at break time, stating uniforms “held them back from running”, and restricted them from playing sports. A 2012 repeat cross sectional study of 64 Year 6 students from one Western Australian school found that girls took significantly more steps during break times when wearing sports uniform (1134.1 steps) compared to their traditional uniform (933.3 steps) (p= 0.006). Such findings suggest that girl’s natural tendency for physical activity may be facilitated through a simple environmental change – a physical activity enabling uniform. Despite such findings, there has been no previous experimental research examining the effectiveness of interventions to increase girls’ physical activity through uniform modifications.
Simply providing girls with the opportunity to wear uniforms that are more amenable to physical activity may represent an effective, low cost, and highly scalable intervention that could be easily phased in by all schools, and would require no investment by government to deliver or maintain. We have assembled a research team consisting of leading physical activity, implementation and schoolbased researchers as well as representatives from the health and education sectors who are excited by the policy relevance and potential translational value of changes to school uniform policies on student health outcomes. As such the aim of this study is to assess the impact of a uniform intervention on girls’ physical activity at school.