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Physical health, lifestyle and after school activities

Overall health

The physical health section asks young people how they would describe their health, from poor to excellent. About three quarters of young people surveyed to date report good to excellent health, and nearly 25% rate their health as 'fair' or 'poor'.

A recent survey estimates the majority of young people aged 9 to 16 years met Australian Government guidelines for moderate to vigorous physical activity with a 69% chance that any given child would get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical exercise per day.

The National Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that 5 to 18 year olds accumulate no more than 2 hours of screen time a day for entertainment purposes, excluding educational purposes. The same survey reports that only a third of young people aged 9 to 16 years met the guidelines for electronic media use and used electronic devises for less than 2 hours a day.

The Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing advises the benefits of being physically active for young people between 5 and 12 years of age include:

  • promotion of healthy growth and development
  • building of strong bones and muscles
  • improving balance and developing skills
  • helping to achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • improving cardiovascular fitness
  • providing opportunities to make friends
  • improving self-esteem.

Body image

Body image refers to how people view their own bodies. Body image is especially pertinent during the middle years when young people become increasingly self-aware and self-conscious about their bodies and how they compare to their peers. These anxieties are compounded for many by the onset of puberty.

Comparisons with peers increase during the middle years. Girls, in particular, begin to focus on appearance and physical comparisons. Physical appearance also becomes fodder for teasing and bullying around this age.

Body image dissatisfaction in middle childhood forecasts later depression, low self-esteem and eating disorders in both boys and girls.

Interventions that target physical activity levels have also been found to improve children’s body image satisfaction.

Breakfast and sleep

The survey asks students how many days a week they eat breakfast and what time they usually go to bed on weekdays. Proper nutrition and sleep not only affect performance at school, these also impact on young people’s long-term physical and cognitive development.

The National Nutrition Survey shows that over 90% of young people usually ate breakfast 5 or more times per week. Skipping breakfast was more common among girls, young people from a low socioeconomic background, and older children.

Australian Early Development Census finds that approximately 4% of students in the first year of schooling had arrived at school hungry more than once.

Eating breakfast not only increases nutrient intake for building strong bodies, it also immediately improves cognitive, behavioural and emotional functioning. Eating breakfast has also been associated with increased memory function in young people.

Young people who frequently eat meals with family members are more likely to possess social resistance skills, self-esteem, a sense of purpose and a positive view of the future.

School-age children need approximately ten hours of sleep a night [1]. Proper sleep not only affects cognitive capacity, but also helps regulate mood.

Research suggests short sleep duration is also associated with the development of obesity from childhood to adulthood.

After-school time

The mismatch between the end of the school day and end of the work day presents a challenge for many Australian families. In the after-school hours between 3.00pm and 6.00pm some young people spend time alone and some participate in after-school activities.

After-school activities

After-school activities provide distinct and important opportunities for promoting young people’s development. Activities such as arts groups, sporting clubs and community organisations give young people experiences that benefit their social and industrial competence.

Participation in structured after-school activities has been shown to boost students’ competence and self-esteem, school engagement and personal satisfaction [2]. Studies have also found a link between after-school activity participation and higher school grades [3].

After-school activity participation also enhances social competence. Through shared activities children and young people learn to cooperate and take on different perspectives, reflect on themselves and acquire better social and emotional self-regulation.

After-school activities allow students to meet new friends, strengthen existing friendships and feel they belong to a group of peers who may have positive aspirations and shared interests.

For young people new to Australia shared activities can bring together young people of many different cultures and promote diversity.

Good after-school programs are those that provide physical and psychological safety, supportive mentoring, opportunities to belong and opportunities to build skills.

A recent survey revealed the three main reasons why young people were prevented from doing the things they wanted to after school were homework, conflicting schedule or doing too much, and parents.

Homework, TV and computer use

Homework, TV and computer use are the 3 unstructured activities that young people report spending most time on after-school. Research indicates that a balance of these activities, rather than a complete absence of TV or high amount of homework, is optimal for young people’s holistic development.

A study conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2009 found that the proportion of young people accessing the Internet either during or outside of school hours has increased from 47% in 2000 to 79% in 2009.

Evidence shows that certain media use, such as playing video games, can have positive effects, particularly in developing visual spatial skills.

Computers can serve as catalysts for positive social interaction. Young people prefer playing games with others on the computer and experience a diversity of interactions as they do so.

Often who young people are with after-school predicts adjustment better than what they are doing. Among 10 to 12 year-olds, free-time spent with parents and non-parental adults is correlated with positive adjustment, whereas free-time spent unsupervised with peers or alone is correlated with negative adjustment.

In most countries, the correlation between home use of technology and academic attainment is greater than in the case of school use, even when allowances are made for the effects of different socio-economic contexts.

Students who do not have access to a computer at home tend to score lower on school achievement tests than students who do have access.

Contact

Project team

Phone: 8226 0452 
Emaildecd.mdi [at] sa.gov.au