Otago schools show the way

Logan Park High School  pupils (from left) Matthew Hendri (14), Reuben Campbell (13), Aiden Braid...
Logan Park High School pupils (from left) Matthew Hendri (14), Reuben Campbell (13), Aiden Braid (16), Jarrod Fowler (14) and Jesse McKersey (14) make the most of the school's rock-climbing wall. Photo supplied.

Dunedin and other Otago high school pupils are more likely to play sport and be active than anywhere else in the country. Reporter Alastair Lynn investigates why we are leading the way in the battle of the bulge.

Otago is leading the way when it comes to battling obesity in schools.

According to the Otago Secondary Schools Sports Association, about 66% of Otago high school pupils participate in school sports, well above the 53% national average.

Otago Secondary Schools Sports Association regional director Nicki Paterson said this reflected committed staff in Dunedin schools.

''The kids aren't any different [in Otago] ... It's because we have really good support networks in our schools,'' she said.

''Sport is an important part of New Zealand society and we want to encourage kids to participate.''

A recent mandatory-exercise proposal to battle the bulge in New Zealand schools has drawn both criticism and praise.

New Zealand Medical Association chairman Dr Mark Peterson said in a policy briefing obesity would potentially be the greatest public health threat over the next decade.

''Our commitment to the health of our patients means we must, individually and collectively, do as much as we can to influence this epidemic,'' he said.

Leading sports researchers Dr Lee Stoner, of Massey University, and Associate Prof Michael Hamlin, of Lincoln University, made their proposal in an open letter to the New Zealand Medical Journal on July 18, recommending a minimum of 90 minutes' exercise a week.

Physical education is compulsory in schools until year 11, when pupils can tailor their class schedule for NCEA.

Not all pupils continue to study PE but many are still involved in sport.

Logan Park High School principal Jane Johnson said sporting activities were a large part of school life.

''We offer probably 22 different sports codes across winter and summer.

"We are very determined, committed and enthusiastic about sports.''

Obesity in young people is seen as a serious issue in schools but some feel that responsibility cannot solely be placed on schooling.

New Zealand Principals' Federation president Phillip Harding said scheduling mandatory exercise would be very difficult.

''I can't imagine how [secondary schools] could incorporate 90 minutes into their schedule.

''There is a lot of pressure put upon schools and we are seen as the ambulance at the bottom of the hill.''

Logan Park High School head of physical education Scott Bayne said many teachers and staff across the country spent a lot of time ensuring pupils were physically active.

''I spend about 14 weeks of my time across the year helping kids get involved in sport,'' he said.

''If the Government wants us to improve, they need to give us the means to do so ... the more facilities we have, the better.''

Bayfield High School principal Judith Forbes said motivating pupils to exercise was key.

''I don't think that making [exercise] compulsory in New Zealand would work,'' she said.

''What we want is to encour-age kids to get involved in exercise in a healthy manner.''

Mr Harding said compulsory physical activity would not solve the obesity problem.

''When you can go to the supermarket and buy a large bottle of Coke for $2, there must be some questions about marketing.

''We've got to educate people about calorie options.

"We will play our part ... we should be part of the solution, but we can't be the whole solution.''


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