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Our youngsters score well on physical activity

21st May 2014

Our youngsters score well on physical activity

New Zealand children and youth are joint top overall in a global report card on physical activity.

The Physical Activity Report Card for Children and Youth was initiated in Canada and for the first time, has been completed by 15 countries this year.

The New Zealand Report Card was developed by a team of researchers at the University of Auckland, led by Associate Professor Dr Ralph Maddison from the University’s National Institute for Health Innovation.

The nine key indicators for the report card used by the 15 participating countries included physical activity levels, sedentary behaviour, organised sport, active play, active transportation, whanau/family and peer influence, school environment, community and the built environment, and government policies.

New Zealand came top with Mozambique in the Overall Physical Activity indicator, scoring a B, but had mixed results in some of the other key indicators.

“New Zealand children and youth’s participation in physical activity was satisfactory, but levels of sedentary behaviour (screen time) were high,” says Dr Maddison. “There’s a clear age-related decline in physical activity and increase in sedentary behaviour with very low levels of physical activity among adolescents, particularly females.”

Grades for active transportation and the built environment were also lower than the other indicators, he says.

“From our findings it’s apparent that initiatives are needed to support active transportation (walking, cycling, scootering),” says Dr Maddison. “While encouraging active transport can be difficult in a country with high car dependence, diverse geography, large rural areas and small towns; the C- score highlights an area in which we can improve.”

“The built environment indicator scored a C, which was also lower than other countries. This finding illustrates the potential for policy and enhancements to ensure the physical environment faciliates physical activity”.

“The high levels of screen time were concerning and suggest the need to identify and implement effective strategies to reduce screen time for children and youth,” he says.
The only area not scored by New Zealand in the Report Card was the ‘Government Initiatives’ indicator due to a lack of agreed international criteria for assessment.

“More work is needed to develop these criteria to enable assessment, plus a more comprehensive review of existing policies and their evaluations to support physical activity for our children and youth,” says Dr Maddison.

Link to NZ Physical Activity Report Card for Children and Youth for full results and Table 4 on page 37 for summary of results.

The 2014 NZ Report Card used available evidence obtained from surveys over the past eight years on physical activity (including organised sport and free play), lifestyle behaviours (including screen-time and active transport) and community and government initiatives promoting physical activity to assign grades to nine unique health indicators for children and youth aged 5 – 18 years.

Consistent with the report cards provided by the other 14 countries, information was collected on the nine indicators of physical activity. A research working group then met to evaluate the evidence, determine the gaps in the literature and propose grades for each indicator. Letter grades were assigned based on the percentage of children and young people who were achieving a defined guideline or recommendation.

A is 81 - 100%
B is 61 - 80%
C is 41 - 60%
D is 21 – 40%
F is 0 – 20%
INC is incomplete data

For each of the nine indicators there are differences among age groups, gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status that are broken down in the main report card.

Scores for the nine indicators for NZ were;
Overall Physical Activity: B
Sedentary behaviour: C
Organised sport: B
Active play: B
Active transportation: C-
Whanau/familypeer support: C
School environment: B-
Community/build environment: C
Government initiatives: INC

New Zealand’s first physical activity guidelines for children and youth were created in December 2007 by the Ministry of Health. The guidelines state that children and youth aged 5 to 18 years should accumulate 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity daily. That’s the equivalent of a brisk walk to activity that causes people to puff. The guidelines also recommend that children and youth spend less than two hours per day (out of school time) in front of television, computers and gaming consoles and that they should be active in as many ways as possible, including being active with friends, whanau/family at home, school and in the community.


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