The simple way we can get school kids to be more active

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Image: Shutterstock Photo: Supplied

Could there be a simple way to get primary school kids moving more during research and lunch? According to a new Australian study, the answer is a resounding yes - let them wear their sports uniforms every day.

As part of the research, published in the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, a team from Newcastle University surveyed 832 NSW school students in grades four to six. All participating schools had a policy of only allowing sports uniforms to be worn on sports days. Kids were questioned about their attitudes to ditching traditional school uniforms in favour of sports uniforms and how they thought this change would impact their activity levels. 

And the results were clear: the majority of students (61.6 per cent) reported that they would prefer to wear their sports uniform every day, while 32.5 per cent said they didn't mind.

Most importantly, 62.1 per cent of students said that ditching the black school shoes and wearing a sports uniform each day would result in them being more active at recess and lunch.

"Despite a large proportion of children indicating that they would prefer to wear their sports uniform instead of their traditional uniform, and a perception by many children that they would be more active during breaks if they were able to do so, all schools had a policy precluding them from wearing sports uniforms on non‐sports days," the authors wrote in their paper.

"Given the low prevalence of children, particularly girls, meeting physical activity guidelines and the decline in physical activity as children age, allowing students the opportunity to wear more activity‐friendly uniforms may represent a simple, inexpensive and potentially effective strategy in achieving population‐level improvements in children's physical activity."

It's not the first time uniform choice has been linked to physical activity levels, particularly in girls. In 2012, another Australian study found that girls, but not boys, were significantly more active at recess, lunch and more generally, when wearing their sports uniform compared to their winter uniform. "A physically restrictive school uniform has the potential to inhibit physical activity among primary-school-aged girls," the authors concluded at the time.

Further Australian research, also published in 2012, found that uniform design, particularly in the private school sector, restricts movement and is "generally impractical for the majority of physical activities".

"This leads to feelings of discomfort, particularly in mixed-gender environments, and reluctance to engage in play," the authors wrote, adding that schools could reconsider their policies to allow a unisex physical education uniform during the lunchtime period. "A practical design allowing ease of movement would increase children's feelings of comfort and self-confidence when engaging in physical activities," they wrote.

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The Newcastle University findings have been applauded by Australian group, Girls Uniform Agenda, who have been advocating for changes to girls' school uniforms for the past two years.

But while changes to uniforms might be slow, it is happening.

Earlier this year, the NSW Government updated its school uniform policy in a "modern makeover" to include the option for girls to wear shorts and pants.The same policy also now exists in Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria.