Physical activity study for schools scores $1.3m funding boost

Friday, 22 April 2016

Professor David Lubans from the University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition (PAN) in collaboration with Associate Professor Chris Lonsdale from the Institute for Positive Psychology & Education (IPPE) at the Australian Catholic University have been awarded a $1.3m NHMRC partnership grant entitled Evidence-Based Physical Activity in Primary Schools: Improving Children’s Health Through Sustainable Partnerships.

David Lubans and Kristen Cohen
David Lubans and Kristen Cohen

This NHMRC grant includes partnership funding from the NSW Department of Education to deliver a multi-component professional learning intervention targeting primary school teachers in NSW. The project, known as iPLAY, aims to promote children’s physical activity in up to 200 schools across NSW over the next five years.

The iPLAY intervention combines evidence from two recent studies to maximise program effectiveness and scalability. It is based on the successful SCORES program, which was a physical activity and movement skills intervention developed by Professor Lubans and his team at PAN (funded by the Newcastle Jets and the Gastronic Lunch through the Hunter Medical Research Institute). The original SCORES (Supporting Children’s Outcomes using Rewards, Exercise and Skills) project involved over 400 children from eight Hunter primary schools and was shown to increase children’s physical activity, enhance their sports skills, and improve their fitness over the 12-month study period.

“To see such a strong effect over 12 months was an excellent result when children of this generation are about 20 per cent less fit than their parents were,” lead researcher Professor David Lubans, from the UON’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, said.

Kristen Cohen, who completed her thesis on the SCORES project, noted a distinct progression in children during the study, with visits by Newcastle Jets players and stars from NSW Touch, NSW Cricket and local netball providing a further boost.

“They became more confident in their participation, and through that confidence they also increased their movement skills,” Ms Cohen said. “The kids were over the moon to meet their sporting role models – just to see their faces light up was a big bonus and I’m sure it motivated them to be active outside school.”

In order to implement this intervention on a larger scale, iPLAY will be delivered using online teacher professional learning system developed and tested by Associate Professor Chris Lonsdale and his team in 20 Western Sydney schools.

Working with key stakeholders, including NSW Sport and Recreation and the NSW branch of the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, the iPLAY project will examine the capacity of this program to be scaled-up at a population level.

“This presents a great opportunity for us to impact activity levels of children everywhere in NSW, because we know that just targeting physical education classes or school sport isn’t enough to increase activity across the school day and onto weekends,” Professor Lubans said.

“It requires a holistic approach where we focus on activities in the classroom and throughout the entire school day, as well as linking with parents.”

Project partner Mr Ross Morrison, Leader, School Sport Unit, Department of Education said the evidence derived from research studies is used by the Department of Education to inform strategic direction, ensure fair and equitable resource allocation, and to promote quality teaching practice in schools and other learning environments.

“This study will provide the Department with data regarding the effectiveness of targeted professional learning on students’ cardiorespiratory fitness, as a result of increases in moderate to vigorous physical activity. The study will also examine changes in teacher practice and confidence when leading school sport and physical activity programs, which is a key issue for primary teachers who typically have little specialist training in this area.

“Importantly, the project will also provide evidence regarding the potential for this intervention to be disseminated effectively at a population level. Our hope is that, following the project, this intervention will be disseminated to all NSW Department of Education primary schools,” Mr Morrison said.

The project is a collaboration between IPPE, the University of Newcastle, Deakin University, and the University of British Columbia, Canada.

Professor Philip Morgan is also a Chief Investigator on the project. Professor Ron Plotnikoff and Ms Kristen Cohen are Associate Investigators on the NHMRC Partnership grant.

* Prof David Lubans, Prof Philip Morgan, Prof Ron Plotnikoff and Kristen Cohen are from the University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, researching in conjunction with the HMRI Cardiovascular Program. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the Community.

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