15 July 2013
Parents who want their children to be physically active do not have to be perfect role models of fitness, according to new research conducted by the University of the Sunshine Coast.
USC Lecturer in Psychology Dr Rachael Sharman and Honours student Jennifer Bowers have found that parental support – like taking children to training – has a much greater influence on children’s fitness levels than how physically active the parents are themselves.
Dr Sharman and Ms Bowers recently surveyed the parents of 144 children to determine what motivates children to be physically active. The children were aged 5-13 and involved in a range of Sunshine Coast sporting clubs.
The researchers also investigated the total time children spend in front of technology-based screens, their overall physical activity, and how these factors affect their weight and total Body Mass Index (BMI).
Dr Sharman said the study revealed that parental involvement was by far the biggest motivator for physical activity of children.
“Just because a parent is fit does not mean the child will be. Our research suggests it has virtually no impact on the level of a child’s physical activity,” Dr Sharman said.
“We found the largest driver for improving and increasing a child’s physical activity is parental support, not role modelling.
“This support involves driving a child to lessons, participating with them, and encouraging them, for example, cheering from the sidelines while the child performs physical activity.
“If parents genuinely want to improve their child’s fitness, they need to be there to support them along the way and reward them with praise.”
Dr Sharman said the research also found that while children’s physical activity was beneficial for their fitness and organ health, inactivity was having a much greater influence on their weight and BMI.
“Regardless of how physically active a child was, it was the high amounts of screen time that was associated with the child being overweight,” she said.
“Childhood obesity strikes children when they are in critical periods of developmental growth and can lead to serious, long-term health problems.
“Parents need to start taking this problem seriously by paying attention to and limiting their children’s idle time, particularly the time spent sitting immobile in front of a screen.
“There is no such thing as ‘growing out’ of childhood obesity. In fact, in general, obese children have a higher risk of being obese in adulthood.
“Sunshine Coast children, much like Australian children in general, are rapidly developing into a generation of ‘screenagers’ who spend a large percentage of their time attached to screens … and it’s making them fatter.”
Dr Sharman will present the key findings from the research at the Australian Psychological Society Conference in Cairns from 8-12 October.
She recently presented the research findings as part USC’s 2013 Research Week.
– Jessica Halls