Unique ways Aussie schools are combating obesity

Small programs making a big difference in Australian schools.
Small programs making a big difference in Australian schools. Photo: Getty

One quarter of Australian children are currently classified as overweight or obese. Moreover the biggest drop in physical activity occurs when children start primary school.

Dr Jo Salmon from Deakin University's Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research attributes this in part to the increased hours children spend sitting down from age six. This includes screen time, being driven to school, and deskbound homework. However, being active actually promotes learning. "Physical activity is important for children's health and well-being, and their cognitive development and academic achievement," says Dr Salmon.

Many schools are already shaking off sedentary learning and getting active. One American school has done so literally, by replacing all of its desks with exercise bikes! But closer to home, what are Australian schools doing? Here's how five schools around the country are combating obesity.

Green thumbs

In Sydney's inner west, Dulwich Hill Primary School gets its hands dirty in its popular kitchen garden. The whole school takes gardening lessons to grow their own fruit, veggies and herbs and look after chickens. Each week kids volunteer for the Harvest Club to pick and sell all the produce at the weekly assembly. The school also does yoga, gymnastics, cross country running and a walkathon, as well as Crunch & Sip, a 10-minute break during class for kids to refuel with healthy snacks like fresh veggies, and water. Susannah, a parent at the school, says the range of physical activities is great. "There's lots going on to keep kids active and create good habits. And it gets a few more veggies into them each day."

Peer led play

At Sandy Bay Infant School in Hobart, a peer-led system means the older kids lead the school in daily outdoor exercises and teach the younger ones how to keep fit. There is a weekly whole-school beach walk and regular walk and cycle or scoot to school days. Water, known as 'cloud juice', is the only drink allowed. Lunches have a 'no packaging' rule and must include protein, carbohydrates and veggies. Ruth, whose son attends the school, is also happy with the weekly school newsletter that provides tips and ideas for healthy lunchboxes. "When we first visited, the school felt very lively and the children were all really active. It was a huge selling point for us," she says.

Coaching pros

Stirling East Primary School in the Adelaide Hills brings in professional sportspeople to hold coaching clinics on a range of sports for all kids during school hours. They also have a dedicated PE teacher who's very popular with kids and parents alike. Samantha's two children are actively involved in all the activities. "Last term, they brought in professional football players. It's as much about teaching teamwork, hand eye co-ordination and sportsmanship, as well as getting active," she said. The whole school also practises a dance routine year-round called the Health Hustle, coordinated by Year 7 students and performed at the annual sports carnival. And parents are expected to join in!


Physical philosophy

Physical development and healthy living have long been an important aspect at Ruldolph Steiner schools. Developing the physical senses through play-based learning is fundamental to the Steiner philosophy. In Canberra, Anthony's two children attend the Orana Steiner School. They start each day with skipping games, and throughout the day do garden walks, dance and gardening. There are also mandatory bush camps during the school term. "It is a beautiful environment and a unique experience," says Anthony. "The kids really do learn in a holistic way by bringing the world around them into each lesson."

Canteen choices

At the Ursula Frayne Catholic College in Perth, healthy and nutritious food options are readily available at the canteen and all school events. These include sushi, rice paper rolls, salad trays and wraps, wholegrain breads and cereals and fresh fruit. A 'Traffic Light' food rating system assesses all food items and prohibits the sale of 'red' items including chocolate, soft drinks and confectionary. Kelly, whose daughter is at the college thinks it's important that the school's healthy living choices are reflected at home. "It's something that should start at home and be encouraged by schools, not the other way around. I love that kids at our school have choices. It's much better to have an option there and they can decide for themselves," she says. 

Is your child's school tackling childhood obesity with their own program or unique idea? Leave a comment below.