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How to get Australian kids off the couch

Today, Australian children are less physically active than ever before. Our modern lifestyle, which favours PlayStation over play time, has resulted in a fairly sedentary generation. By the end of primary school, half of Australian children will not have mastered basic movement skills, such as throwing, kicking and jumping.

Deakin researcher Dr Lisa Barnett advocates to increase physical activity opportunities for children and has over 10 years’ experience working as a public health practitioner. She explains that if children don’t develop basic movement skills, it could affect their entire lifetime of health.

‘These skills are linked with lifetime behaviour patterns that affect risk of obesity and other health problems. People need a range of skills and a “can do” attitude if they are to remain active throughout their lives, whether this be taking up hiking, cycling, a vigorous sport, Tai Chi or yoga,’ Barnett explains.

So what can be done to get Australian kids moving?

Change self-perception
Dr Barnett says that a positive attitude is essential. She researches children’s perceptions of how good they think they are at movement skills, as self-perception is an important motivator of physical activity participation. Our minds are powerful things. If someone has the attitude that they are physically capable – no matter what their skill level is – it gives them confidence and they are more likely to perform well over time. Whereas if someone believes they are terrible at sport, they are more likely to avoid it, and never improve. We can propel these self-perceptions throughout our entire lives.

Practice at primary school
There is strong evidence that primary school interventions can make a real difference to children’s activity levels. ‘People are not born with good basic movement skills – they need the opportunity to practice,’ Dr Barnett says.

‘Today, many children are not playing outside the way they used to. Many primary schools don’t have access to specialist PE teachers, who understand the importance of skill development and quality physical education. For our future health as a population, we need to target physical literacy, just like we do English or maths, so that children are supported to develop these skills and the attitudes and behaviours they need to engage in lifelong physical activity.’

Get moving with technology
In an ironic twist, apps and video games may be the key to encouraging activity for children, when they are often seen as the cause of sedentary lifestyles. Dr Barnett and her team are looking at the opportunities technology offers to help get more kids moving. For example, they are exploring the value of active video games, such as Wii and X-Box Kinect games, to improve self-perception of skill ability. Barnett has also developed an app for children to rate their own movement skills, and researchers in 13 different countries are using it to assess children’s self-perceptions of their movement competence.

Dr Lisa Barnett is an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Deakin University School of Health and Social Development. Find out more about your study options in health and social development at Deakin.

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Dr Lisa Barnett
Dr Lisa Barnett

Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University
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