Figures released by the Confederation of Australian Sport reveal a massive 3.2 million Australian children are not doing enough exercise to meet current health guidelines.

It is physically enough children to fill 6,400 jumbo jets.

And 14 million Australians (children and adults) now do not undertake sufficient moderate or vigorous activity to meet government guidelines on exercise.

The Confederation of Australian Sport (CAS) says it is critical that a major national campaign is developed to unlock the real potential of Australian sport to fight the alarming and growing obesity levels.

The not-for-profit Confederation of Australian Sport has been working in the field for 30 years and is an independent not-for-profit industry voice for community sport. CAS says a staggering 80% of children now do less than the one hour a day of moderate/vigorous physical activity recommended to meet guidelines of 420 minutes a week.

Confederation of Australian Sport CEO Rob Bradley says his organisation wants to see a jump in the number of people meeting physical activity guidelines by 15% over a 5 year period … saying we cannot afford not to.

He says with a major campaign in place using the health, education and sport sectors, over 70% of Australia’s population could be meeting physical activity guidelines within just 15 years. The Confederation is calling on the Federal Government and the new Health Minister to show leadership on the issue.

Rob Bradley said, “Millions of children aren’t doing enough exercise. It is shocking. Only 1 in 5 children is meeting government recommendations for healthy living and only 2 in every 5 adults. We want people to recognise the physical and mental health benefits of sport.”

Rob Bradley says Deakin Health Economics’ modelling reveals if we reduce physical inactivity by 15%, 10,000 new cases of disease will be avoided, 3,000 deaths will be prevented and $434 million will be saved by the economy every year.

Rob Bradley said, “There is massive frustration that Australia has a viable solution – underpinned by our national sports system – to the ever growing health problems caused by obesity and sedentary behaviour. The reality is the sport system is not being maximised. The costs created by obesity and overweight are over $60 billion per year and getting higher. The Government has said clearly these costs are unsustainable. It is well and truly time for action.”

He says there appears to be a reluctance to embark on a cross-sector approach to tackle the problem. Rob Bradley points out in the past 3 months, numerous organisations … including the AMA, the Committee of Presidents of Medical Colleges and the Australian Health Policy Collaboration … have all called for action, with the AMA saying obesity is overtaking smoking as the biggest preventable health threat.

Rob Bradley said, “The need to increase children’s physical activity requires a vital partnership with schools. What we are faced with is a community preventative health issue and the education system needs help to meet physical activity goals. If the responsibility for children’s physical activity was shared between parents, schools and community sport it is much more likely to be achieved.”

“420 minutes of physical activity a week seems like a huge task on its own but if split between schools (150 minutes), community sporting activity (150 minutes) and home (120 minutes) it is much more achievable.”

The Australian Primary Principals Association’s President Dennis Yarrington said, “A coordinated approach with the health and sport sectors could reap enormous benefits for children’s personal health and wellbeing. The development of physical literacy skills and knowledge is vital for ensuring the future personal health and wellbeing of every child. Initiatives are underway now to develop the best way to upskill and engage teachers to maximise physical activity opportunities for children in the school environment.”

Rob Bradley says a continuing lack of action is placing more and more pressure on health budgets and the health system.

The Confederation of Australian Sport says the Australian sporting system containing over 20,000 local community clubs – if effectively working together with the school and health systems – has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of physical inactivity and get the community to be much more active and healthy.

Rob Bradley said, “This approach should dovetail with the work of Professor Dick Telford whose ‘Lifestyle of our Kids’ LOOK Project has provided evidence of the positive physical and psychological benefits of physical activity from a young age and measured early signs of risk of chronic disease and academic achievement.”

The randomised control trial showed four major effects on Primary School aged children:

1. Improved NAPLAN results in numeracy (13 points) and reading/writing (8-10 points).
2. Reduced insulin resistance indicating lowered risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes
3. Reduced cholesterol levels indicating lowered risk of developing cardiovascular disease
4. Enhanced bone development in girls indicative of reduced risk of developing osteoporosis

Professor Telford explained, “We are now rolling out a program where one Physical Literacy Coach assists the Primary school teachers in 8 schools. This aims to enhance physical education teaching by classroom teachers and links school and community sport.”

The AMA calls for bringing together stakeholders and all tiers of government to help boost participation rates in physical activity, especially among those groups known to have low participation rates. Similarly the National Heart Foundation has been calling for the development of a National Physical Activity Strategy.

Rob Bradley added, “The downside of not taking any action is there will be a continuing massive burden on our health system. The two main target groups are children and adults who play some sport at school, university or club level but don’t actually undertake sufficient moderate/vigorous activity to meet Government guidelines. We have the capacity to reach those individuals through existing networks and through a much more flexible, accessible and innovative community sporting system.”

“We estimate a minimum of $230 million is needed to start with for year 1 but the returns begin to accrue almost immediately and we believe that the initiative will be completely paying for itself within 10 years.”

At the moment only 43% of the Australian population are meeting the Government’s guidelines – with support in 5 years over 58% will be meeting the guidelines – that’s an extra 3 million Australians.

The Confederation of Australian Sport is specifically asking for:

1. The establishment of a National Physical Activity Strategy.

2. Investment in an integrated program of evidence based and targeted strategies to drive national and local change in physical activity in children and at-risk population groups:

o Through funding for the national roll-out of the ‘Physical Education and Physical Literacy’ (PEPL) program to assist Teachers to maximise physical activity opportunities in the classroom and linking school and community sport (coordinated by Prof Dick Telford).
o Through piloting a whole of community physical activity strategy in a targeted low socio-economic area with substantial evidence of low physical activity levels and high levels of preventable chronic diseases (coordinated by the Australian Health Policy Collaboration).
o Through funding and support for grassroots sport including a Social Inclusion fund to support those who are financially disadvantaged.
o Through funding and development of a national Online Local Sports and Physical Activity Directory – to assist GPs with local sport referrals for their patients, and for use by school teachers and members of the public.

Rob Bradley added, “The sheer scale of this issue is obviously massive. It is now time for leadership. This is a great opportunity for the Federal Government to take real action and save lives, reduce disease and save huge amounts of money for the economy.”

“In our view, the Australian Government has a vital role to play in providing leadership and direction for this issue. We are looking forward to seeing action take place because a continuing lack of action will see the ongoing deterioration in the health of the Australian community and more and more pressure on our health system. Physical inactivity is a major impediment to Australia’s long-term prosperity.”

“We are talking in investing in Australia’s future and in the health of our children. What could be more important?”

Media enquiries to Ross Woodward on (03) 9769 6488
Rob Bradley is available for media interview.
Dennis Yarrington is available
Prof Dick Telford is available
Rosemary Calder is available

* A 747/8 intercontinental jumbo jet carries up to 500 passengers.