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Little physical activity in physical education

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Swedish schoolchildren spend only a quarter of their time in physical education engaging in at least moderately vigorous physical activity.
‘PE only once a week disappeared in the 1990s, and that makes it even more frustrating that such a small portion of the physical education today is spent on physical activity. But we did find potential,’ says Anders Raustorp, associate professor of physiotherapy at the Department of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science, University of Gothenburg.

In the study, published in Acta Paediatrica, the researchers measured the physical activity in 149 second, fifth and eighth graders during 39 PE lessons using accelerometers.

At least 60 minutes per day

According to current international recommendations, adolescents should engage in physically activity of moderate or high intensity for at least 60 minutes per day. The aim is for PE lessons to include at least 50 per cent physical activity at these levels, but the studied children reached only 25 per cent. A gender difference in physical activity was only found for the second graders.

‘A quarter is little compared with other countries. It corresponds to 10–15 minutes per PE lesson. My view is that the PE teachers tend to overestimate the time spent above the threshold intensity level. A lot of time is lost due to unplanned disruptions or because the kids have to wait for their turn. Many activities require instructions or demonstration. In addition, PE in Sweden includes some theoretical material that the teachers and the children have to spend time on,’ says Raustorp.

A need for action

One interesting detail is that 13 per cent of the lessons that the researchers intended to monitor were cancelled due to theatre visits and other activities. The study also points to an untapped potential, however. Some children reached two-thirds of the recommended daily dose of physical activity. As for the choice of activities, the highest levels of physical activity were achieved in lessons focusing on fitness activities, games and orienteering.

‘This indicates potential. I would like to add a physical activity requirement in the national curriculum. There has to be more action in Swedish physical education and it has to be possible to let the curriculum go hand-in-hand with the current recommendations for physical activity among young people. There is no antagonism between the view of physical education as a Swedish school subject and the need for physical activity,’ says Raustorp.