06:22pm Sunday 16 February 2020

Study helps give kids the best start to reduce obesity rates

Throughout a 10-week period, 155 preschoolers in two South Auckland centres participated in weekly exercise sessions – jumping, balancing, catching balls and performing forward rolls to improve fitness and fundamental movement patterns. This round of research finished last week and will resume in Hamilton next month.

Jumping Beans, a physical activity and skills programme for early childhood education, is a key collaborator.

Centre teachers have been up skilled, with the delivery of professional development in physical literacy and ways to provide better opportunities for children to be more physically active. Additionally, Massey University is providing nutrition training to staff to boost awareness of the positive effects of a healthy diet on preschoolers.

Dr Ajmol Ali from Massey University’s School of Sport and Exercise says obesity rates in New Zealand children are increasing at an alarming rate. “With more children enrolled in Early Childhood Education centres, it’s becoming extremely important they are provided with appropriate physical activity and nutrition practices.

“The impact of these good practices will not only affect physical activity levels and promote better nutrition but may also enable improved sleep and better management of children. Research suggests children with better motor skills may have improved academic and cognitive abilities and also enhanced physical activity levels as adolescents and adults.”

So why aren’t more Kiwi pre-schools doing it? Dr Ali says children’s opportunities to stay active are being limited. “There is a lack of focus in initial teacher education on physical education and nutrition. Teachers’ perceptions of risk and rigid playground regulations are creating ‘cotton wool children’.”

The most common barriers identified in a nationwide scoping report (Sport and Recreation New Zealand) were limited information, knowledge and skills of teachers, and their lack of confidence in providing a wide range of physical activity opportunities.
Breaking down the barriers

Massey University, the University of Waikato and BestStart are working with programme provider Jumping Beans to break down those issues, making it easier for teachers to get the balance back into the classroom.

BestStart’s Chief Operations Officer Fiona Hughes believes the programme will benefit staff, the children and their parents. “Teachers will be more confident, it might improve staff morale, and lead to more settled and physically active children, happy parents and a market edge to forward-thinking ECE centres.”

Mrs Hughes says there was an obvious need for urgent action. “At a new centre I was visiting, I noticed one child who was particularly tall for his age but also very overweight. I thought he had very little chance of getting control of his weight given his habits were formed at such a young age. This stayed with me and as I visited other centres I noticed more children who were overweight and in some cases obese. I was struck by the potential impact on society and began to think of a meaningful way in which we could approach the issue.

“The partnership with Massey and Waikato is very exciting, and has the potential to provide extremely valuable findings. The research will provide concrete evidence about the impact of this physical activity on preschoolers. We’re also expecting fresh insights into the value of further professional development of staff around exercise. These findings will guide our programmes and curriculum.”

The BestStart Study centres which received the 10-week programme this year are Tennessee Kiwicare, Mangere and ABC Hayman Park. The BestStart Control centres are Community Kindy Te Rapa and Community Kindy Greenwood – both in Hamilton. They will undergo the same programme in term 1, 2016. The results will be compared with the Auckland centres.

Once the research is completed, staff and the centre’s children will also have a fitness programme delivered to them.

Watch the One News story on the study here: https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/leaping-into-a-healthier-lifestyle-preschoolers-trial-exercise-programme-tackling-childhood-obesity?autoPlay=4668041232001

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