More than 200 young school children have gained profound fitness benefits from a year-long physical activity and movement skills intervention run by University of Newcastle researchers.
Outcomes for the SCORES project, published in the leading sports science journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, show improvements in physical activity, fundamental movement skills and cardiorespiratory fitness.
“To see a significant effect in all three key areas is quite rare,” lead researcher Associate Professor David Lubans said. “It’s wonderful because the improvement wasn’t just within the school day but translated into more activities after school and on weekends.”
Eight Hunter primary schools in low-income areas participated, with four receiving the SCORES (Supporting Children’s Outcomes using Rewards, Exercise and Skills) program while the remainder served as study controls. The project was co-funded by HMRI supporters the Newcastle Jets and Newcastle Gastronomic Lunch of the Year.
Children from Years 3 and 4 increased their moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by an average of 12 minutes a day, compared to the control groups, with researchers employing accelerometers rather than self-reporting for greater accuracy.
Results showed a 10 per cent improvement in running, throwing, catching and kicking skills, while cardiorespiratory fitness improved by the equivalent of five extra laps on the beep test.
“To see such a strong effect over 12 months is an excellent result when a recent review demonstrated that children of this generation are about 20 per cent less fit than their parents were,” Associate Professor Lubans said.
“It confirms our hypothesis that improving fundamental movement skills may assist in preventing the decline in physical activity. Kids still like to be kids – to get out and kick balls – and this intervention was all about promoting enjoyment.
“We provided teachers with five principles to make the lesson fun and engaging. The results are testament to that.”
PhD candidate Kristen Cohen, who helped deliver the intervention, said there was a noticeable 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,” Ms 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 outside school.”
The control groups followed their normal school program for the 12-month study period and, following final assessments, were provided with the intervention components. The research team has since partnered with Hunter New England Health to further disseminate aspects of SCORES to schools throughout the region.
“Our next step is to look for national funding to roll this out across the country, again partnering with institutions in other States, and hopefully some other A-League teams might like to get involved,” Associate Professor Lubans said.
HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.