Physical activity guidelines in after school hours care

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  Published on Tuesday, 06 July 2021

Physical activity guidelines in after school hours care

Library Home  >  Health, Wellbeing & Nutrition
  Published on Tuesday, 06 July 2021

In a world first, researchers from the University of South Australia surveyed more than 600 Outside School Hours Care (OSHC) services across Australia, investigating the amount of physical activity undertaken by children in OSHC environments, alongside the amount of screen time they are given.

The results of their survey, which produced a high percentage of respondents, showed that 31-79 per cent of sessions conducted in after-hours care services involved screen time and little to no physical activity by the students, meaning that they receive very little exercise and often next to no time for active play.

Guidelines from the World Health Organization aimed at ending the epidemic of obesity in early childhood (younger than five) recommend that:

Children under 12 months of age should:

  • Engage in as much physical activity as possible throughout waking periods, particularly through “interactive floor-based play”, and 30 minutes of tummy time over the day for children who are not yet mobile.
  • Not spend more than one hour at a time in prams/strollers, chairs or other restraints.
  • Not be given any screen time. Inactive time should instead involve reading and storytelling with their caregiver. 

The recommendations for one–two-year-olds are:

  • Three hours of physical activity across a range of intensity levels. This activity can be spread throughout the day.
  • No more than one hour at a time in prams/strollers, chairs or other restraints. 
  • No inactive screen time is recommended for one-year olds. For those aged two years, sedentary screen time should be no more than one hour. Inactive time should instead involve reading and storytelling with their caregiver. 

And children aged three-four years should:

  • Engage in three hours of physical activity across a range of intensity levels, spread throughout the day. One of those hours should be spent doing moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activities.
  • Not spend more than one hour at a time in prams/strollers, chairs or other restraints. 
  • Not have more than one hour of sedentary screen time. Inactive time should instead involve reading and storytelling with their caregiver. 

WHO found that an alarming number of people around the world were not getting adequate physical exercise, and were too sedentary, which was responsible for more than 5 million deaths in people of all ages worldwide.

These findings led the organisation to create the above clear guidelines for physical activity, screen time and sleep for children particularly.

With the WHO guidelines in mind for overall daily activities for young children, the guidelines created by Professor Carol Maher and the other University of South Australia researchers recommend that Outside School Hours Care services provide:

  • At least 45 minutes of active play time in before school care
  • No more than 30 minutes of recreational screen time in before school care
  • At least 90 minutes of active play time in after school care
  • No more than 60 minutes of recreational screen time in after school care
  • At least two-three hours of active play time in vacation care
  • No more than two hours of recreational screen time in vacation care.

Professor Maher says the guidelines may seem very high and that this is deliberate.

“…we have framed the guidelines in terms of scheduled time, to give OSHC services clear goalposts to aim for.

We know that the average child is active for around a third of the time they spend playing (if you look around a playground of kids playing, you’ll notice quite a lot of kids sitting or standing still at any given moment)

So, by offering children 45 minutes of play time, we can realistically hope they are active for about 15 minutes of that),” she says.

The survey conducted by the University of South Australia’s research team generated feedback from participating services that clear guidelines would be helpful for them to learn how to schedule the activities offered to children during their time in OSHC.

The researchers hope that by setting physical activity guidelines for children in OSHC they will support the development of healthier habits through increased physical activity and decreased screen time.

Professor Maher says the team is now focused on spreading the word about the guidelines to maximise uptake among OSHC services.

“Our team was recently awarded funding to develop resources to help OSHC services take up the guidelines and evaluate a rollout of the guidelines and resources to 162 randomly selected OSHC services across greater Adelaide, greater Perth, and greater Newcastle,” says Professor Maher.

“Over the next few years we will be rolling them out in earnest to get the guidelines making a difference, hopefully.

Having created guidelines is a first step – the next challenges are spreading the word about the guidelines so that OSHC directors and educators know they exist and helping OSHC services take the guidelines on board and build them into their daily programmes.”

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Monday, 05 July 2021



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