In Australia, many adolescents and teenagers are driven to school. They spend much of the day sitting in class and are then driven home where they typically sit in front of a screen doing homework, playing video games or watching TV. There already exists evidence that a sedentary lifestyle is detrimental to physical, social and mental health and too much time spent in front of screens is known to worsen posture, negatively affect eyesight and sleep, and cause weight gain.
A research study undertaken by Deakin University in Victoria, and published recently in the journal BMC Public Health, tracked the movement of almost 400 students across 18 high schools. The students wore devices which differentiated between time spent sitting, standing and lying across eight time periods. The study also explored the differences between gender, and activity on weekdays versus weekends.
The study found that the majority of time spent sitting was during class compared to time out-of-school. Despite the same school day routine, girls spent more time sitting and had fewer breaks from sitting than boys but there was no difference on weekends. Overall, teenagers spend two thirds of their waking hours sitting.
Previous studies have shown that children who spend more time moving have better academic outcomes, higher social connectedness, and lower rates of diabetes risk factors. The researchers involved in the study hope the results will encourage interventions to get teenagers moving. Such interventions could include standing or active classes in school, as well as making homework less sedentary through setting group or creative homework activities.
Nine in ten young Australians not active enough
Australian guidelines recommend a maximum of two hours of recreational screen time per day for adolescents but it is estimated that less than one in three teenagers meet that goal. According to an information pamphlet produced by the Australian Government Department of Health, nine in ten young Australians are not active enough. The brochure is aimed at young people aged 13-17 and explains the benefits of limiting sedentary behaviour, including reduced risk of disease and improved concentration. It encourages young people to achieve 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity activities per day.
According to the Healthy Kids website, which is a joint initiative of various NSW government department and offices, Year 6 students spend about 34 hours of their free time engaged in sedentary activities each week. This increases to 41 hours for students in Year 8, and 45 hours for Year 10 students. Some YMCA centres around the country have introduced casual drop-in activities netball and basketball to encourage young people to be more active and social without having to commit to weekly sessions and fees.