Obesity and more specifically, childhood obesity, is a concern of governments and other organisations internationally. One third of New Zealand children are either overweight or obese. The issue of obesity is especially significant for Māori and Pacific children, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.2 Māori and Pacific children are more likely to be overweight or obese, but researchers found these differences disappeared when they accounted for socio-economic status.3 Māori and Pacific children are more likely to live in low income households than children of other ethnicities.4
The environment a person lives in, and the way their bodies and behaviour respond to that environment determines whether or not they will become obese. Parents can increase the risk of obesity to their children through genetics and the environmental conditions before and during pregnancy. As they grow, children experience environments that include cheap, readily available foods that are high in energy and low in nutrients. They are less physically active, both for transport and play, than in the past. These factors influence whether the child becomes obese or not.5
Activity in children aged 0-5 years promotes healthy development, and reduces the risk of them becoming overweight or obese.6 The food, nutrition and physical activity (F, N and PA) attitudes and behaviours children develop while young persist into adulthood7 so it is important to establish healthy habits when children are young.
Physical activity includes all the movements people make in everyday life, including work, recreation, exercise and sporting activities.* Physical activity can provide a context for learning, or contribute to an outcome, such as developing specific motor skills.
*Sport NZ (2014). Primary school resources. Retrieved 04.08.16 from www.sportnz.org.nz/managing-sport/search-for-a-resource/guides/primary-school-resources
Young children who are overweight are five times more likely to be overweight at 12 years of age.8 The most consistent predictors of childhood obesity are:
The recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report on Childhood Obesity,10 points out the need for a cross-sectoral approach to improving population health and health equity. Using the compulsory school years to drive and embed nutritional education is one important way of doing this. The report also notes the need for inclusive physical education.11 It states that interventions for children in early learning services support healthy behaviours and weight trajectories, and these interventions are most effective when they include caregivers and the wider community.
Young people’s physical literacy is developed by their experience of high quality health and physical education, physical activity and sport. This physical literacy gives them the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding12 they need to value participating in physical activity and sport across their life.
Young people spend approximately one third of their waking hours at school during term time, and sometimes even more than this in early learning services. The education sector therefore has a key role to play in implementing a curriculum that develops the nutritional13 and physical literacy of children and young people.
Physical activity has been linked with improved educational outcomes for students.14Students that are more physically active and have higher fitness levels tend to spend more time on-task and have higher levels of achievement. In New Zealand, Sport in Education15 resulted in increased attendance, higher student engagement and improved assessment results for secondary school students.16
Similarly, evidence links good nutrition with improvements in both short and long-term educational outcomes.17 If children and young people do not have an adequate intake of micronutrients, for example due to a high energy but low- nutrient diet, their brains do not function optimally.18 Further evidence shows that children who eat breakfast have improved test scores, and fewer days away from school.19
Clear food policies and good education about nutrition can improve at-risk children’s nutritional status, help them build healthy eating habits, and learn skills to support their decision making throughout their lives.20
Sport can be informal or formal, competitive or non-competitive forms of active recreation.* It includes both new and established forms of active recreation, and can be used as a context for learning within The New Zealand Curriculum.
*Sport NZ (2015). Community Sport Strategy 2015‑20. Retrieved 04.08.16 from www.sportnz.org.nz/assets/Uploads/attachments/About-us/Com-Sport-Strategic-Plan.pdf
The National Administration Guidelines (NAGs)21 set out expectations for school administration. The NAGs state the boards of trustees must:
Both Te Whāriki and The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) set out an expectation that children should learn about health and physical activity.
The Ministry of Education (the Ministry) says physically active play supports learning across all strands of Te Whāriki. In particular, the Wellbeing (Mana Atua) and Exploration (Mana Aotūroa) 22 strands have learning outcomes relating to children learning how to control their bodies and keep themselves healthy. The Ministry have advice and ideas for supporting and providing for physically active play, and explain the kinds of learning that can occur through play.23
Health and Physical Education is a learning area of the NZC.24 This learning area is broken into three subjects; health, home economics and physical education. It includes food and nutrition, and physical activity as two key areas of learning. Managing self, an important part of managing health, is one of the key competencies of the NZC.
Physical education (NZC)
Physical education is learning about “movement and its contribution to the development of individuals and communities. By learning in, through, and about movement, students gain an understanding that movement is integral to human expression and that it can contribute to people’s pleasure and enhance their lives. They learn to understand, appreciate, and move their bodies, relate positively to others, and demonstrate constructive attitudes and values. This learning takes place as they engage in play, games, sport, exercise, recreation, adventure, and expressive movement in diverse physical and social environments. Physical education encourages students to engage in movement experiences that promote and support the development of physical and social skills. It fosters critical thinking and action and enables students to understand the role and significance of physical activity for individuals and society.”*
* Ministry of Education (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum for English‑medium teaching and learning in years 1‑13. (p. 23). Retrieved from nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum
Learning about food and nutrition, and physical activity may also occur in other areas of the curriculum. For example, students may learn about nutrition in science, and about factors influencing involvement in physical activity in social sciences.
ERO’s School Evaluation Indicators25 give a holistic view of desired outcomes for children and young people. One of these outcomes is for students to be physically active and lead a healthy lifestyle.
Previous ERO evaluations have included information around how schools and early learning services developed children and young people’s knowledge and appreciation of health and physical activity. The findings of these reports are summarised in Appendix 2.
2 Ministry of Health. Obesity data and stats. Retrieved (21.06.16) from www.health.govt.nz/nz-health-statistics/health-statistics-and-data-sets/obesity-data-and-stats
4 Māori and Pacific children are also at a higher risk of persistent deprivation, and to experience severe poverty. Carter, K. and Gunasekara, F. I. (2012). Dynamics of income in children in New Zealand, 2002‑2009: A descriptive analysis of the Survey of Family, Income and Employment (SoFIE). Public Health Monograph Series, 28. Retrieved (25.08.16) from www.otago.ac.nz/wellington/otago036608.pdf
5 World Health Organization (2016). Report of the commission on ending childhood obesity. Available from apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/204176/1/9789241510066_eng.pdf?ua=1
10 World Health Organization (2016). Report of the commission on ending childhood obesity. Available from apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/204176/1/9789241510066_eng.pdf?ua=1
11 Inclusive physical education provides opportunities for all students, of all abilities rather than focused on the potential elite sportsperson. See World Health Organization (2016). Report of the commission on ending childhood obesity. Available from apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/204176/1/9789241510066_eng.pdf?ua=1
12 Whitehead, M. (2013) cited in Sport New Zealand (2015). Sport New Zealand’s Physical Literacy Approach: Guidance for quality physical activity and sport experiences. Available from www.sportnz.org.nz/about-us/who-we-are/what-were-working-towards/physical-literacy-approach/
13 Nutritional literacy is a person’s ability to obtain, process and understand basic nutritional information. This literacy helps protect against risk factors such as socio-economic disadvantage, food insecurity, nutritional status and body weight. Zoellner, J., Connell, C., Bounds, W., Crook, LaS., & Yadrick, K. (2009). Nutrition literacy status and preferred nutrition communication channels among adults in the Lower Mississippi Delta. Preventing Chronic Disease, 6, (4). Retrieved 7 December 2015 from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2774642/
14 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Health and academic achievement. Available from www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/health_and_academics/pdf/health-academic-achievement.pdf
15 Sport in Education is a Sport NZ project that supports schools to deliver the curriculum through the context of sport. It is currently being developed, trialled and evaluated in eight secondary schools. It will be made available to all schools. More information can be found at www.sportnz.org.nz/managing-sport/search-for-a-resource/programmes-and-projects/sport-in-education-project
16 NZCER (2015). Getting runs on the board: Stories of successful practice from two years of the Sport in Education initiative. Retrieved 04.08.16 from www.nzcer.org.nz/system/files/SiE-Getting-Runs-on-the-Board.pdf
18 Benton, D. (2001) cited in Ball, J., Watts, C., & Quigley, R. (2005). A rapid review of the literature on the association between nutrition and school pupil performance. Wellington: Obesity Action Coalition.
19 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). Health and academic achievement. Available from www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/health_and_academics/pdf/health-academic-achievement.pdf
22 Ministry of Education (1996). Te Whāriki, He Whäriki Mātauranga mö ngā Mojopuna o Aotearoa, Early Childhood Curriculum. (p.48, 86). Retrieved from www.education.govt.nz/early-childhood/teaching-and-learning/ece-curriculum/te-whariki/
23 Ministry of Education (2015). Play idea: Physically active play – Korikori. Retrieved 30 November 2015, from http://www.education.govt.nz/early-childhood/teaching-and-learning/learning-tools-and-resources/play-ideas/physically-active-play-korikori/
24 Ministry of Education (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum for English‑medium teaching and learning in years 1‑13. Retrieved from http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum
25 ERO (2016). School evaluation indicators: effective practice for improvement and learner success. Available from www.ero.govt.nz/publications/school-evaluation-indicators