School Drop in Activity a Cause for Alarm

Results released today from the Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge 2018, reveal that participation in the fitness challenge drops by over 80% after third-year and the fitness levels among girls decreases dramatically from first to sixth year.

The Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge demonstrates that a six-week fitness programme improves children’s fitness levels by an average of 10%.

“The past seven years of data have enabled us to analyse the trends and of biggest concern is the tremendously large participation drop off after third year,” said Professor Niall Moyna who oversees the programme in the Centre for Preventive Medicine at Dublin City University.

“The 2018 data shows that nearly nine-thousand 13-year-olds participated in the Schools’ Fitness Challenge compared to a meagre thirteen-hundred 17-year olds.”

“The sudden drop in participation after third year is extremely alarming. We are seeing a direct link between the drop in participation and the increasing number of children aged from 16 – 18 years not meeting the minimum level of fitness required for optimal health. This is a major national issue, and the big question is why are schools and parents letting this happen?”

“Instead of managing health implications as they arise, we should be trying to prevent them.
In addition to being the leading cause of death in Ireland, cardiovascular disease is also associated with increased risk for dementia and parents just don’t seem to get the connection between childhood fitness and long-term health.”

Moyna is rarely a man to pull his punches but sometimes they do need to be thrown and to land. Parents will understand that trying to communicate long term benefits to teenagers can be a challenge but in a generation where body image is recognised to be more important than ever before the trick has to be to build an image based on real fitness as opposed to social media filters.

“It continues to baffle me that people don’t seem to understand the importance fitness has for children’s long-term brain health and short-term wellbeing and academic performance. There are several international studies which show that exercise helps reduce stress levels, increases concentration levels and positively impacts on academic performance.”

Findings from a 2014 study that tracked over 80,000 students found that children who significantly improved their fitness over a 5-year period enhanced their academic performance compared to children whose fitness levels did not change.”

During the week of the 4th to the 8th March Sport for Business, as part of a partnership with the PExpo will run a series of features on programmes that are bringing sport and fitness into schools. 

“I think continuous surveillance of cardiorespiratory fitness should be mandatory in secondary school.”

“The Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge is core to our values of early health intervention and encouraging people to live a long and healthy life,” said Liz Rowen, Head of Marketing at Irish Life Health.

“It has been proven that health behaviours adopted in your teenage years reflects directly on how fit and healthy you are later in life which is why we are so passionate about this programme.”

We are proud to be working with DCU for the 8th year to help encourage children to incorporate fitness into their everyday routines.”

The schools which improved their average fitness levels the most were announced today at an
award ceremony at Croke Park, attended by Irish Life Health ambassadors Thomas Barr, Mary-Kate
Slattery, Prof. Niall Moyna and Dr Sarah Kelly.

Gort Community School in Galway, Summerhill College in Sligo and Alexander College in Dublin were the three to show the greatest improvement while Coláiste Naomh Mhuire in Kildare was revealed to be the country’s fittest overall school.


Image Credit: Dan Sheridan, Inpho

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