Source: New Zealand Herald, 11 July 2016
Activity trackers have been placed on toddlers as part of a
pioneering research programme in early learning centres aimed at
tackling New Zealand's childhood obesity epidemic. The new study
aims to get kids more active and improve national guidelines.
Because of its innovative design, the top researchers involved in
the collaboration with the country's largest early learning
provider have been invited to speak about it at a major conference
in Korea this week.
The 10-week interventions have been run at low-decile BestStart
South Auckland and Waikato centres and aimed at finding whether
staff had the right skillsets to give children the opportunities
they needed for physical activity. It was a crucial question, given
kids under 5 are increasingly spending their most active hours away
from their parents at early learning centres. More concerning,
statistics now showed that a third of New Zealand children were
overweight or obese.
For the study, BestStart and childhood physical activity
programme Jumping Beans teamed up with Dr Ajmol Ali, of Massey
University, and Professor Claire McLachlan, of Waikato University,
to observe 45-minute weekly exercise sessions with groups of up to
25 3 and 4-year-olds and their teachers. Staff were taught how to
use centre resources to promote physical activity - particularly
fundamental movement patterns like jumping, balancing and basic
ball-handling skills - and also attended workshops on nutrition.
The teachers were asked to keep logbooks throughout the period,
while children wore accelerometers, used for monitoring body
movement, enabling the researchers to identify changes.
It emerged that teachers do not receive much physical education
training in their initial teacher education, and that there are
areas that could be improved. "Although most are enthusiastic about
providing opportunities for physical activity, they would like
greater knowledge about how to do this effectively to maximise the
benefit for children," said BestStart's deputy chief executive,
The feedback from staff had been encouraging so far, with
teachers reporting they'd gained more confidence to give children
more activities. "There's been a rapid growth in numbers of
children enrolling in education and care and we're starting a
discussion around the level of exercise children receive within
their centres." Jumping Beans founder Sophie Foster said children's
healthy exercise and eating habits were formed at a very young age.
"Through effective education we can contribute enormously to the
wellbeing of our children and preventing childhood obesity."
The study's preliminary findings are being presented this week
at the Organisation Mondiale Pour L'Education Prescolaire (OMEP)
World Conference in Seoul, where the researchers have also received
a major award. Ms Hughes expected that, once the study's results
are published, they would help guide improvements to exercise and
nutrition in BestStart's programmes and curriculum. Dr Ali said the
hope was to progress into a much larger study that might ultimately
inform better guidelines for childcare centres.
"The UK, Australia and US have much better guidelines than we
have for under-5s - ours are very sketchy, in this regard, and no
one has really taken ownership of it." While the Ministry of Health
is still developing its own national guidelines with Sport NZ and
the Health Promotion Agency, Dr Ali said his group's focus would be
more on development and skills.
In April, the ministry published an expert group's review, which
made a series of strong recommendations including that toddlers and
preschoolers should get at least three hours of physical activity
each day and should be sedentary for no more than one hour at a
time. The group further recommended that children under 2 should
have no screen time, while for older children screen time should be
limited to less than an hour a day.
Auckland University obesity expert Professor Boyd Swinburn said
a comprehensive approach was needed to reverse New Zealand's
fast-growing childhood obesity rates. Children were getting fatter
around the world, but our own kids were growing obese at "an
[alarming] rate". "There's a whole host of potential reasons for
this, but the dominant one ... is the increase in the availability,
marketing and lower prices of processed foods that are higher in
fat, sugar and salt," he said. "We have the illusion that our
youngsters grow up breathing fresh air, being very active and
eating healthy food, and it's not true." What was more shocking to
Professor Swinburn was there were no serious signs of turning the
rates around. "Many places in the US are seeing significant
declines in childhood obesity, so the fact it's not happening in
New Zealand means we are really not doing a good job."
Those American states and cities that were showing big
improvements had taken a more comprehensive approach to the problem
- something that was urgently needed to make progress in our own