Make exercise at school mandatory: academics
Making all school students do a minimum of 90 minutes of exercise a week would address the country's high obesity rates, leading sports science researchers say.
Associate Professor Michael Hamlin, of Lincoln University, and Dr Lee Stoner, of Massey University, have made their case in an open letter to the New Zealand Medical Journal.
The New Zealand Medical Association's briefing paper Tackling Obesity, released in May, said "existing approaches to tackling obesity are not doing enough".
Hamlin and Stoner said activity was "a key factor" in battling obesity.
Introducing at least three 30-minute moderate-intensity exercise classes a week would reduce obesity and make for healthier schoolchildren, they said.
Hamlin said the latest school curriculum statement (2007) did not include any minimum time allocation for physical education and "slack teachers" were not motivated to provide it.
He said teachers were not taught how to incorporate physical activity into their classes.
"They have to realise that it's not actually hard, getting the kids out and doing something."
Children were missing out on learning basic skills, including jumping, skipping and dodging, and the opportunity to burn energy at school.
Mandating exercise in high school was more important because teenagers had so many choices, and would opt out of physical activity if given the choice, Hamlin said.
"That decision is not based on knowledge of why they are opting out, it's because their friends are opting out or because they can't be bothered. They don't have the mental ability to understand all the questions and answers behind physical activity."
Canterbury school leaders questioned whether Hamlin and Lee's proposal was practical or necessary.
Canterbury West Coast Secondary Principals Association president Neil Wilkinson said it would be difficult for secondary schools to implement, and it was not fair to hold schools responsible for solving the obesity problem.
"Isn't it just another case of the school being seen as the panacea for everybody's problems?"
Most primary schools would provide at least 90 minutes of exercise a week, Canterbury Primary Principals Association president Rob Callaghan said.
He said the obesity issue required a multilayered approach.
"It's a big leap to say that, because a few teachers aren't doing it that regularly, we have an obesity problem in New Zealand."
Hillmorton High School principal Ann Brokenshire said it was up to schools to provide opportunities for students to be physically active but this could be provided at break times, so that the curriculum was not interrupted.
The school had recently bought skateboard and scooter ramps and lunchtime volleyball and basketball competitions were "hugely popular".