New Zealand rated globally for children’s activity levels

New Zealand children and young people have low levels of physical activity and high levels of screen time compared with their peers in 49 countries.


However, New Zealand is above average in a number of measures, including the levels of government support of physical activity, and children’s participation in organised sport, as shown by the 2018 New Zealand Physical Activity Report for Children and Youth.

The New Zealand report card, compiled by a team led by Associate Professor Melody Smith from the School of Nursing at the University of Auckland, was one of 49 report cards from countries in six continents, presented at the Movement to Movement Conference held this week in Adelaide and published simultaneously in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.

The data were included in a report by the Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance (AHKGA), which aims to assess international trends in childhood physical activity in developed and developing nations, resulting in a global comparison known as ’Global Matrix‘.

This was launched to tackle what the organisers describe as a global epidemic of childhood inactivity. Previous reports have been published in 2014 and 2016.

“Physical activity is essential for children’s healthy development and their physical and mental health ,” says Associate Professor Smith. “The report card, and the comparisons, are of very high value in raising awareness and informing policy in ways that improve our children’s health in all those dimensions.”

The New Zealand report card was compiled by researchers from the Universities of Auckland and Otago, Auckland University of Technology and Deakin University in Australia, drawing on data from national and regional surveys and assigning grades across ten indicators.

New Zealand did well in organised sport, active unstructured play, exercise with family, whānau and peers, and activity in school. The community and built environment, and government policy, were both well above average, as was the overall score.

However, Associate Professor Smith advises caution when making the comparisons, and interpreting the changes over time. “The data available are often different so the reports aren’t directly comparable. What they do give us is a snapshot of how we are doing at a given time.

“What we really need to make this exercise even more valuable is a regular, nationally-representative survey that would enable the consistent measurement of the indicators on all the report cards.”

Multifaceted strategies to support our people to thrive and be healthy are needed right across the spectrum, she says.

“For example, getting kids out of cars in favour of walking, scootering or cycling to school has a multitude of benefits, but we know that actually making this happen needs change across a range of factors. Since traffic safety is one of the greatest barriers to kids travelling actively to school, improving safety is imperative. This can include safe crossings, slower speeds, reducing traffic around schools and safer driver behaviour.”

Associate Professor Melody Smith is Head of Clinical Research at the School of Nursing at the University of Auckland. Her research is supported by a Health Research Council of New Zealand Sir Charles Hercus Research Fellowship.

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