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Experts show how to reduce school-related sedentary behavior



The Sedentary Behavior Research Network has published new guidelines “to provide guidance to parents, educators, policy makers, researchers, and health care providers” on means to reduce school-related sedentary behavior.

The recommendations, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity were written by researchers led by Travis J. Saunders, PhD, associate professor of applied human sciences at the University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown. Based on work carried out by a panel of international experts and informed by the best available evidence and stakeholder consultation, “these recommendations will be useful in supporting the physical and mental health, well-being, and academic success of school-age children and youth,” according to the authors.

The key strength of their work, they wrote, is that it is based on robust scientific data and specifically refers to school-related sedentary behaviors, whether these occur during lessons in the classroom or while completing assignments at home. “Existing sedentary behavior guidelines for children and youth target overall sedentary behavior and recreational screen time, without any specific recommendations regarding school-related sedentary behaviors.” The article also mentions the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lack of movement was already a problem in these age groups; social distancing and distance learning over such an extended period only made things worse.

Risks and benefits

Dr. Saunders and colleagues wrote: “The relationships between sedentary behaviors and student health and academic outcomes are complex and likely differ for specific sedentary behaviors.”

While on one hand sedentary behavior may have a significant negative impact on metabolic outcomes, there is evidence that higher durations of homework and reading are associated with better academic achievement among school-aged children.

Another example of this complexity is that screen-based sedentary behaviors (spending time in front of computer screens, TVs, tablets, smartphones) often demonstrate deleterious associations with a range of health outcomes among school-aged children and youth aged 5-18 years, including body composition, cardiometabolic risk, and self-esteem. Yet screen-based devices may offer opportunities for novel pedagogic approaches and student engagement and may increase access to education for some students, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers noted that “many common sedentary activities ... do not have to be sedentary in nature. These behaviors are only considered to be sedentary when combined with both low energy expenditure and a sitting, reclining, or lying posture.” As an example, they pointed out that “active video gaming, or paper-based work at a standing desk, are both ways that common sedentary behaviors can be made nonsedentary.”

One thing’s for sure: Children and teenagers don’t move around all that much.

Data from the 2019 Eye on Health survey found that one of five children (20.3%) had not engaged in any physical activity the day before the survey, almost half (43.5%) had a TV in their bedroom, and about the same number (44.5%) spent more than 2 hours a day in front of a screen.

As for schools, the survey showed that, while 93% had initiatives to promote physical activity, fewer than 30% of these programs involved parents. It should be kept in mind that these are prepandemic numbers.


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