News

Kick, catch and throw - key to obesity prevention


1 December 2008

Encouraging children to run around an oval for instance is useful but the fitter and more physically active teens are those who mastered object control skills as children, Ms Barnett said.
Encouraging children to run around an oval for instance is useful but the fitter and more physically active teens are those who mastered object control skills as children, Ms Barnett said.

A new clue to help slow the nation's obesity epidemic has been discovered.

A new study has found kids who learn how to kick, catch and throw are more likely to grow into active and fit teens.

The finding carries an important message for schools and parents that it is not enough just to try to get kids more active - they need to be taught important motor skills, such as to kick, catch and throw, as well.

The Physical Activity and Skills Study (PASS) led by Sydney University doctoral candidate Lisa Barnett is the world's first longitudinal study to examine whether childhood motor skill proficiency affects teens' cardio-respiratory fitness and physical activity.

It studied 276 NSW students in years 10 and 11 who had already been assessed for motor skills by NSW Health when they were in grades 4 and 5.

It found children skilled in the kick, catch and throw were more likely to be fitter, and almost 20 per cent more likely to participate in vigorous physical activity, as teens.

Adolescents who had mastered object control skills as children were also more likely to be involved in at least half an hour more moderate to vigorous exercise a day than those who hadn't mastered object control skills as children.

Their engagement in more sports and physical activity was due to higher levels of perceived sports competence, the study found.

Teenage girls were less active than teenage boys and had less proficiency in object control skills as children.

Ms Barnett said the research, soon to be published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, has important implications for the teaching of physical education in schools.

"Encouraging children to run around an oval (for instance) is useful physical activity but what my research has found is that fitter and more physically active teens are those who mastered object control skills as children," Ms Barnett said.

"Teaching children to kick, catch and throw overhand will make them fitter and more active in later years and may help them avoid obesity later in life. Parents and teachers should therefore practice, practice and practice with children, especially girls, to help develop motor skills."

The grade 4 and 5 skills test involved six skills: three object control skills (kick, catch and overhand throw) and three locomotor skills (hop, side gallop and vertical jump). Year 10 and 11 students were given a questionnaire test on the frequency and duration of their physical activity, and participated in a 20 meter shuttle run test.

Ms Barnett said the findings could have significant ramifications for Australia's obesity epidemic, estimated to cost the nation as much as $3.5 billion each year.

"If we can stop children becoming obese and growing into obese adults that is key," she said.

"Teachers need to be given professional support to teach object control skills. They need to be able to detect and correct errors in performance and provide skill-specific feedback so students can learn and improve. Given the low rates for girls of skill development and teen activity and fitness, special focus may also need to be given to girls in skill building."

Other PASS study findings include:

  • Boys are better at object control skills than girls, in both childhood and adolescence, and are both fitter and more active as teens;
  • Teenage boys report significantly more time in physical activity as well as time in non-organised and organised activity;
  • Grade 10 students are more active than grade 11 students with grade 11 girls the least active;
  • More than one in five students does not meet the minimum recommendation of one hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day;
  • At least one in ten students has not reached mastery/near mastery in each object control skill for adolescence (except for boys in the catch).

Contact: Sarah Stock

Phone: 02 9114 0748 or 0419 278 715