Physical activity among children and youth

Professor Anna Timperio is Deputy Head of School, Faculty of Health at Deakin University was our guest at a Community Chat meeting in August at Blackburn Lake Visitor Centre in where she shared her knowledge with a local audience. 

Deakin University is not only a world class centre of excellence in this field – it’s local. So we have the benefit of not just reading the first-rate academic papers the researchers publish, but also of hearing the messages from them personally. I don’t know about you, but if I hear a message personally from someone who is an expert, and I can discuss the matter with them, that’s streets ahead of reading a manuscript! And if they are local and understand the community in which we live – what a bonus

Anna is also Deputy Director of the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN)– a world recognised centre of excellence – (check the link for what IPAN does). And Anna is also a Whitehorse resident and a mother of school-age children who move around in our local community.

Her expertise is not only academic!

Anna emphasised the benefits of children becoming far more active.

The benefits are impressive – as this chart shows.

  • Academic performance
  • Brain Health
  • Muscular Fitness
  • Heart and Lung Health
  • Cardiometabolic Health
  • Long Term Health
  • Bone strength
  • Healthy Weight

Check the details here.
It’s worth a look!

But how are our Australian children faring?

In general, the proportion of children and youth meeting the guidelines decreases with age and the total amount of activity they do decreases with age.

Here’s the latest “Report Card” on how Australia is embracing the need for more physical activity by children.

It’s time to “pull up our socks” because we are not doing very well!

Anna and her colleagues at Deakin University play a leading role in the Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance. This Report Card information is online at their website.

2022 Active Healthy Kids Australia Physical Activity Report Card can be seen here.

Grades in the 2022 Report Card were largely unchanged from the 2018 Report Card; there has been a lack of improvement across the board in physical activity benchmarks for children and young people since the Report Card initiative commenced in 2014.
The Report Card theme highlights the unique opportunity we have at this nexus of social change to create more physically active lives for all.

For more evidence check out the 2011/13 Australian Health Survey results:

It has taken years, and a looming catastrophe which is now obvious, to get real recognition and action by Governments about climate change.

With health where we have an even greater personal responsibility – especially where children are concerned. Governments have made a lot of information available. But are they sending the right messages to us? Because we don’t seem to be taking notice.

Physical activity and sedentary behaviour recommendations

Australian Government recommendations for physical activity for all age groups are available.
(Check this link)

An an example, recommendations for 17 year-olds include:

  • At least 60 minutes per day of moderate-to vigorous activity (accumulated), mainly aerobic, and includes:
    * vigorous activities incorporated ≥3 days/week
    * Muscle & bone strengthening activities ≥3 days/week
  • Light physical activity several hours/day
  • Sedentary behaviour: ≤2 hours/day recreational screen time & long periods of sitting should be broken up as often as possible.

Check the recommendations for your child here.

Walking and cycling to school

Walking to school can contribute significantly to overall physical activity and it is affordable.

The range of benefits for kids include physical wellbeing, mental health benefits, independence and freedom, social connection and vibrant streets, connection to nature.  Other benefits relate to sustainability. 


Royal Children’s Hospital National Poll: Shows that only 23% of 5-12 year-olds and 16% of 13-17 year-olds walk or ride to school on most days of a typical week. 38% of 13-17 year-olds take public transport.

And the Australian Report Card from Asia-Pacific Socienty for Physical Activity Report card gives Australia a D+ for active transport – check it out here.

A NSW report documenting walking to school shows a decline from 1971 to 1999-03, and it seems that the trend is still in decline.
(Source – van der Ploeg et al article linked here)

What’s holding us back?

The Royal Children’s Hospital National Child Health Poll linked above, reports that 71% of children DON’T regularly walk or ride to school. Among those parents who reported driving by car as the most common mode of travel to school, the reason for doing so included:

  • Driving is the quickest form of transport (52%)
  • Driving is the safest form of transport (48%)
  • Driving fits in with the family schedule (46%)
  • Driving is a way to spend time with my child (19%)
  • Driving is my child’s preference (15%)

Another 2012 Australian study gives an interesting insight into why there is a reluctance to let children ride.

It looks like no-one said “I’m driving my child to school because it’s best for their development and health”. Since “spending time with my child” is important, surely a walk or ride to school with a child would be a far better way to spend time together than in a supposedly quick journey in a car, often in congested traffic?

Safety is shown in the survey as a big reason. Which is why it’s vital that governments, at all levels, match their messages about the health benefits of activity and active travel with policies and budget allocations to make it safer and more convenient  for all to walk and ride.

Lock-downs – changed local conditions and less traffic

The proportion of children who walked as a family and walked on their own increased in April/May 2020 (lockdown 1) compared to February (pre-pandemic)

Link to paper:

Importance of neighbourhoods for adolescents:

Studies show that the neighbourhood around home is important for how active teenagers are on weekends.  The area around school is important for weekday activity (outside school hours)

Academic paper: 

Potential actions to remedy the above situation:

  • Drop and walk points
  • Dedicated, well-connected bike infrastructure
  • Lower default speed limits
  • Traffic calming; safe crossings
  • Safe routes to school (eg. within 1500m)
  • Prioritise streets for people
  • Play streets
  • Integrated transport planning

Some impeccable Sources to back this up!

Click to access the document

And a final truly excellent resource: