Inactivity and poor food choices leading to rising obesity rates continues to be a concern and focus for researchers and educators in Australia, with a number of recent reports featuring in the media.
As President for ACHPER WA and Lecturer of Health Education at ECU, the ABC and Melbourne radio approached me for an opinion piece on the extreme approach that is currently used in Singapore where overweight children are forced into ‘TAF Clubs’. You can work that one out for yourself by spelling TAF backwards. However and more specifically, whether I agreed with a mandated approach to tackling childhood obesity.
For those unfamiliar, Singapore is currently leading the world in education assessment scores or PISA scores, where the country rates as number one in the world with regard to literacy and numeracy (see: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/). At the same time, Singapore has no resources other than its people. It uses conscription or the draft as a basis to the armed forces and enforces a very different penal system to Australia. Yet, Singapore has also successfully reduced the prevalence of obesity.
Do I agree with the Singapore approach?
My answer is no because research tells us that a single approach does not support lifelong behaviour change and from a social justice perspective, I would not support singling children out because they are overweight. My preference is toward a multi-pronged approach, similar to that used to combat tobacco smoking in the 1908s such as enabling a sugar tax and imposing tariffs, developing new laws, furthering education, exploring codes of conduct and practices, policy development and the like. Additionally, I support more research to help us understand what physical activities children prefer and why.
There is no doubt that it is difficult for teachers and educators to decipher the impact of recent report findings. For example, one recent report indicated that childhood activity was on the rise with swimming identified as the most popular activity in Australia. Another report found that children in early childhood are not active enough.
So what to do?
As a proactive and responsive profession let’s keep reviewing our approach to curriculum planning by exploring the myriad of ways in which children and young people like to move and be active. Think outside the box, perhaps ask your students and try not to be hammed into a thematic approach that discounts students’ preferences. At the end of the day, supporting lifelong activity is a goal that may require creating opportunities for your students to be exposed to lots of different activities to help them find that one activity they really love.
Some reports and recent studies to look at:
Two thirds of young children do not get enough physical activity
Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines
Physical literacy: Do our kids have the tools?
Active living for all 2017-2019