Physical activity study for schools scores $1.3m boost

Mar 30 2016

A school-based physical activity study run by University of Newcastle (UON) researchers, with seed support from Newcastle Jets and the Gastronomic Lunch of the Year, has kicked a $1.3 million national funding goal and will be implemented in 200 schools across NSW over the next five years.

The original SCORES (Supporting Children’s Outcomes using Rewards, Exercise and Skills) project recruited over 400 children from eight Hunter primary schools. Students who received the SCORES program improved their sport skills, spent an additional 13 minutes each day in physical activity and their cardiorespiratory fitness increased by the equivalent of five extra laps on the beep test.

“To see such a strong effect over 12 months was an excellent result when children of this generation are about 20 per cent less fit than their parents were,” lead researcher Professor David Lubans, from the UON’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, said.

Professor Lubans has since partnered with the Australian Catholic University’s Institute for Positive Psychology and Education (IPPE) to jointly package SCORES with an online delivery system developed by Associate Professor Chris Lonsdale and his team.

The new combined study, known as iPLAY, received a National Health and Medical Research Council grant this month. It will deliver evidence-based strategies and professional development materials directly to primary school teachers in NSW.

“This presents a great opportunity for us to impact activity levels of children everywhere in NSW, because we know that just targeting physical education classes or school sport isn’t enough to increase activity across the school day and onto weekends,” Professor Lubans said.

“It requires a holistic approach where we focus on activities in the classroom and throughout the entire school day, as well as linking with parents.”
Associate Professor Lonsdale said iPLAY had the potential to be scaled-up at a population level through the involvement of key stakeholders, including the School Sport Unit of the NSW Department of Education, NSW Sport and Recreation and the NSW branch of the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

“All three of these organisations provide critical services that influence the health and wellbeing of children. They have embraced the importance of evidence-based practice and we are committed to providing the highest quality data that can inform policy and practice,” he said.

Kristen Cohen, who completed her PhD on the SCORES project, noted a distinct progression in children during the study, with visits by Newcastle Jets players and stars from NSW Touch, NSW Cricket and local netball providing a further boost.

“They became more confident in their participation, and through that confidence they also increased their movement skills,” Mrs Cohen said. “The kids were over the moon to meet their sporting role models – just to see their faces light up was a big bonus and I’m sure it motivated them to be active.”

Professor Morgan is also a Chief Investigator on the project. Professor Ron Plotnikoff and Mrs Kristen Cohen are Associate Investigators on the NHMRC Partnership grant.

* Professor David Lubans, Professor Philip Morgan, Professor Ron Plotnikoff and Kristen Cohen are from the University of Newcastle, researching in conjunction with the HMRI Cardiovascular Program. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the Community.