May 22, 2014

News outlets are abuzz with the surprising news that Aussie kids are amongst the least active in the world. In a land renowned and revered for its active, outdoor lifestyle, sports participation and world class athletes, how can this be?

The Active Healthy Kids Australia 2014 Report Card, released last week, reported that 80% of kids aged 5 to 17 do not get the recommended 60 minutes daily physical activity. This is despite most of those kids being involved in organised sport. To make matters worse, 70% spend more than the recommended maximum of two hours screen time per day.

The problem is not just with children. What about their parents, or their grandparents?

As a society, we increasingly rely on passive rather than active transport – how many of us walk or ride to school or work?; sitting rather than active leisure – TV, anyone?; labour-saving rather than active household tasks – remote controls, clothes dryers, dishwashers. The list goes on.

Yes, some of these are good and some are essential, but we need to be aware of the fact that as our daily lives are becoming physically easier, we must find ways to keep our bodies active. The old recommendation of 30 minutes daily activity (and 60 minutes for kids) is simply not enough for anyone with a sit-down job. This includes kids at school.

While many people are busy, they are not busy being active. As parents, we get tired with all the demands placed on us and it’s often easier to simply allow the kids to sit and play electronic games. It keeps them quiet and they’re safe and out of trouble. This short-term solution is creating a long-term problem of inactivity and resultant declining health.

Many parents are worried about the safety of their kids playing alone outside, walking or riding on busy roads to school, and in general being unsupervised. A quick look at social media commentary about this report revealed statements based around “Back in my day, we were outside all the time” and “We had to be home by dark”. Most parents can relate to this, so what’s happening with our kids?

Research/Project Manager and Lead Author of the report, Dr Natasha Schranz, said that the results showed parents were falling into the trap that participation in organised sports is enough. In any sporting activity, how much time is spent moving compared to time spent watching and waiting for the play to come to your area of the court or field? The results might surprise.

Trevor Shilton, the Heart Foundation’s physical activity spokesperson, sees the report as a wake-up call that we’re facing a potential future health crisis where heart disease, diabetes and obesity will rise.

We need to provide our kids with opportunities for safe active outdoor play, for organised activity or sport, and for leisure pursuits that avoid electronic screens. Let’s think clearly about the long-term effects and get our kids – and ourselves – moving more.