“Monitoring activity more closely in school will help us to design better interventions to improve personal activity,” says expert

Baroness Grey-Thompson will be launching the Healthy Active School System, an online ‘measurement tool’ developed by ‘Fit for Sport’ a UK based charity which will allow schools to track, monitor and evaluate pupil physical activity levels. 

Comment from Mark Hamer, Professor in Exercise as Medicine, National Centre for Sport & Exercise Medicine, Loughborough University:

“This is very important and reflects a real step forward for public health; approximately only 20% of 5-15 yr old British kids meet current physical activity guidelines (60 min per day activity ). We know kids are very inactive in school and even in PE lessons data suggest some kids may only be vigorously active for less than 10 mins of the lesson. Monitoring activity more closely in school will help us to design better interventions to improve personal activity.”

Expert comment from Dr Lauren Sherar, Senior lecturer in Physical Activity and Public Health at Loughborough University- based in the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine, East Midlands. 

“Children’s physical activity can be measured by asking children/parents/teachers about the child’s physical activity (e.g. questionnaires), observing the children (e.g. direct observation) or objectively monitoring their activity (e.g. pedometers). The latter is often considered most accurate as it is not subject to inaccuracies in recall and self-report biases. Our most recent objective data in England revealed only half of boys and 34% of girls (aged 4-10) met the physical activity guidelines1 (Esliger and Hall 2009). The picture is even bleaker in secondary school aged children with only 7% of boys and no girls meeting the physical activity guidelines.

Schools have long been an attractive site for health initiatives as they capture all children, irrespective of background. The agenda for using schools to promote health has increased with the recent Childhood Obesity Strategy: a plan for action asking schools to provide 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity per day, using a whole school/whole day approach incorporating strategies such as running programmes (e.g. Daily Mile) and active lessons in addition to PE and sports clubs. The increase in funds available to schools via the soft drinks levy will mean, rightly or wrongly, they will be held accountable for spending and subsequent impact. This accountability could be antithetical to health promoting practice, as it may downplay the complexities in processes that lead to a healthy and active school.

The Healthy Active School System is one example of a charity meeting this monitoring need by creating an online system where schools can record (self-report) physical activity and track Sports Premium spending. The whole school approach to increasing physical activity means that any evaluation system will need to use validated (and where possible) objective measures which capture all activity across the whole day, which is sensitive to change and is adopted (ideally) across all UK schools. Furthermore, schools need support to interpret and reflect on the information, to maintain or improve good practice and enhance capacity to create an active environment that supports quality learning and teaching.”

Note 1: At least 60 minutes moderate intensity physical activity per day.

Esliger, D. Hall, J. (2009). Chapter 6: Accelerometry in children. In Craig, R., Mindell, J. and Hirani, V. (Eds.). Health Survey for England 2008: Volume 1 Physical activity and fitness. The NHS Information Centre.

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