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Physical activity for primary school pupils

5 October 2004 Media Statement
Physical activity for primary school pupils

Encouraging Kiwi kids to be more physically active is the aim of a groundbreaking new initiative for primary schools announced today by Education Minister Trevor Mallard.

"I have been concerned to see physical activity levels among young Kiwi kids on the slide, and obesity on the rise (see attached). It is critical we start taking action to get our children back on the right track.

"We all know - and research is showing us - how important physical activity is for a child's health and wellbeing.

"It's also important for their education. Research suggests that physical activity enhances brain function, the learning process and kids' academic performance across all curriculum areas.

"What I am proposing is to change education regulations from the beginning of 2006 as a signal to schools that physical activity should be given priority.

"Schools will be supported to do this, through a range of extra resources and professional development provided by the Ministry of Education and Sport and Recreation New Zealand (SPARC).

"I envisage that as a result of this initiative, each child will participate in at least one hour of meaningful and high quality physical activity a week, facilitated by a physical activity education specialist or teacher with extra training. This will be in addition to the regular health and physical education curriculum requirements.

"Over time the extra physical activity could be provided utilising the extra staffing that schools will receive as a result of the classroom release time guaranteed to teachers in the latest Primary Teachers’ Collective Agreement.

"Options in smaller schools include collaboration and clustering between schools to enable the extra physical activity to take place, or further professional development so that current staff can be released to fulfil the new requirements."

Trevor Mallard made the announcement during a visit to Randwick School in Lower Hutt where he participated in a physical activity class with world champion ironman Cory Hutchings and Silver Ferns netballer Anna Rowberry, both keen supporters of encouraging physical activity in schools.

"It’s important that young people understand the benefits of regular physical activity and develop their skills if we are to have a healthier and more active society," Trevor Mallard said.

"Research indicates that early participation in quality physical activity not only increases health and wellbeing in the short term, it increases the likelihood of children leading active lifestyles and reaching their sporting potential, as they grow into adulthood.

"It's also important that young children are given the skills and confidence so they can actually enjoy taking part in physical activity, rather than trying to avoid it at every opportunity."

The Ministry of Education and SPARC will consult with key sector groups over the next few months about the implementation of this initiative. It will require amendments to the National Education Goals and the National Administration Guidelines for all schools.

This new initiative will be supported by SPARC's Active Schools strategy which is planned for implementation in 2005.

A summary of relevant research is attached.


Obesity Research - Nz Findings
- World wide research indicates childhood obesity is on the rise
- This research indicates that low levels of physical activity is a critical factor in the rise of obesity

The prevalence of obesity has increased rapidly over the past two decades in the developed world. For example New Zealand data indicates that between 1989 and 1997 the prevalence of adult obesity increased by 55 percent (Ministry of Health, Healthy Eating Healthy Action- A strategic Framework: 10).

The potential health risks of obesity are extensively documented. Childhood obesity can lead to lifelong illness for people, including adult obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart conditions and a range of other health disorders that can shorten a person’s life expectancy.

The Ministry of Health’s latest research indicates:
- 31% of children were either overweight or obese.
- Pacific children's levels of overweight/obesity were 62%, Maori 41% and New Zealand European and Others 24%.
- One third of Pacific boys and girls were overweight and a further 26% of boys and 31% of girls were obese. The rates were highest for 11–14 year-old girls where a total of 71% were overweight or obese.
- 41% of Maori children were either overweight or obese, and this was a particular concern among girls (47%).

New Zealand research suggests that physical activity levels decline amongst children aged 5-17 years at the same time as television watching increases with age. This is of serious concern given the incontrovertible link between sedentary behaviour and obesity.

More detailed results can be found in NZ Food NZ Children: Key results of the 2002 National Children's Nutrition Survey on


A child is born with billions of neurons which need sensory stimulation in order to link together to form neural pathways. Every movement made, makes connections in the mind/body system. The development of these neural connections is vital for memory, sensory development, communication between the two sides of the brain,
processing of information, participation in the arts and the later formal learning of reading, writing and mathematics.

Physical activity not only strengthens the connections within the brain, children also have an opportunity to understand concepts by exploring them physically. By experiencing concepts physically, children are empowered to understand them cognitively.

Physical activity:
- increases relaxation that allows the brain to process more efficiently and assists retention and learning.
- Assists the brain to continue to grow and develop brain cells (neurons) and connecting pathways.
- Neural pathways are increased and strengthened with each new movement experience. The more connections, the more ways information can be processed.
- The environment and exploratory movement experiences influence how the brain wires itself up after birth.
- Physical activity increases oxygen and glucose (the fuels) to the brain.
- Quality childhood movement experiences prepare the brain for language, art, maths, science, movement, group abilities and intelligences.
- Physical activity triggers a transmitter that enhances learning by boosting the ability of the brain cells to communicate with each other.

"Fundamental movement skills" establish and strengthen neural pathways. Learning the fundamental movement skills involves trying out new things, thinking, making decisions, evaluating and persisting. Children who have competent physical skills are more likely to have self confidence and self esteem. This can flow on into their approach to other aspects of their lives and also have a positive impact on their relationships with their peers.

For more information, see the Active Movement booklet at

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