Top journal publishes iPLAY, school-based kids fitness research

Australian research, proven to improve children’s heart health and fitness, has been published by JAMA Pediatrics, the top-ranked paediatrics journal in the world.

ACU’s Institute for Positive Psychology and Education (IPPE) and University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition created the online teacher training program to help battle inactivity in children.

Named iPLAY, the program equips teachers with the skills and resources to involve students in 150 minutes of planned physical activity at school each week, including high-quality physical education and school sport, and two to three ‘classroom energiser’ breaks. It also promotes activity after school and on weekends through links with parents and community sport organisations.

Only one in five Australian children are meeting the national daily physical activity guidelines. Or, put another way, 80 per cent of Australian children don’t do 60 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity each day.

Co-creator of the program, Professor Chris Lonsdale from ACU’s IPPE, said the program was a game-changer for improving aerobic fitness and heart health in children.

“The program has been rolled out to more than 64,000 primary school students in 190 schools across Australia. And the results have been astounding,” said Professor Lonsdale.

“iPlay has cut the cardiovascular disease risk in kids due to poor aerobic fitness by more than 50 per cent in those primary schools using the program.” Originally trialled in eight New South Wales schools, the study found students increased their aerobic fitness by more than 20 per cent over a 12-month period when their teacher had completed professional development.

“iPLAY gives teachers the confidence to ensure they are running effective physical education and sport lessons. It provides them with fresh, evidence-based content to enhance health, wellbeing, and learning. It also shows teachers how to use physical activity breaks between academic lessons to enhance student concentration. In short, it gives the students both fitness and focus.”

University of Newcastle’s Professor David Lubans, co-creator of iPLAY, said the program helps teachers to promote physical activity at school and forge crucial partnerships with parents, community sport and recreation clubs to encourage activity beyond the school setting.

“Currently in NSW, primary school teachers’ university training tends to focus largely on teaching literacy and numeracy, with little time spent specifically on physical education and physical activity promotion,” he said.

“iPLAY gives teachers the confidence to ensure they are running effective physical education and sport lessons. It provides them with fresh, evidence-based content to enhance health, wellbeing, and learning. It also shows teachers how to use physical activity breaks between academic lessons to enhance student concentration. In short, it gives the students both fitness and focus.”

Funded by the NSW Department of Education and the National Health and Medical Research Council, iPLAY was offered free for up to 150 NSW government primary schools. Sport Australia provided funding for another 40 schools across the country.

The results of the iPLAY randomised trial were published in JAMA Pediatrics on 3 May 2021.

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