Friday, 23rd June 2017
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New research supports expert's call for health-related homework to be made compulsory in Irish primary schools

On foot of the findings of a major research study observing the health behaviours of 1,280 school children, parents and teachers across Ireland, leading Health Psychologist, Professor David Hevey of Trinity College Dublin has recommended that health-homework be considered as a compulsory part of the Primary School Curriculum.

Hevey, Founding Director of the Trinity College Research Centre in Psychological Health who has also conducted research for the National Children's Research Centre, carried out an independent study to critically assess the Super Troopers with Laya Healthcare programme - Ireland's first health homework programme involving over 200,000 primary school children - and explore more broadly the healthy attitudes and behaviours of primary school children and their families.

Established in 2014, Super Troopers has proved a massive hit among teachers and families and has scaled quickly to become the biggest health programme in primary schools, with 1,400 (one in every three) schools participating this year. As well as physical activity, the free programme also covers wellbeing and nutrition. Professor Hevey's research found that children and their parents were significantly more ‘active' after taking part in Super Troopers, with one in four families eating healthier as a result of participating in the programme.

The findings of the research are far-reaching, revealing fresh insights into the physical health and mental wellbeing of young children. While the research reveals positive attitudinal gains and healthy behaviours among families, it also highlights some worrying trends:

research team calculated children's BMI and of those who participated, one in five (20%) are overweight/obese.

Almost half of parents (42%) said their child's weight impacted on their self-esteem, with almost one in three (30%) admitting weight impacted on their child's friendships and moods (38%).

Almost one in five (17%) parents admit to being concerned about their child's weight, with the majority (72%) talking directly with their child about her/his weight, suggesting they are tackling the issue head-on.

The good news is that Irish children are drinking less fizzy drinks, with just 2% drinking them every day. However, the bad news is that they're swapping fizzy drinks for sugary waters, with one in four (27%) kids drinking ‘fruit-flavoured water' (27%) at least five days a week.

Commenting on the findings, Consultant Dietitian Paula Mee, a member of the Irish Nutrition and Diebetic Institute (INDI), today warned parents about the hidden dangers of fruit-flavoured waters. Mee conducted a detailed analysis on 12 fruit-infused waters readily available in Irish stores, revealing some samples provide 22g sugar or 5tsp. in a 250ml serving.

One 420ml bottle of flavoured water analysed contains 37g sugar or 9.25 tsp. - that's x 3 times a child's recommended sugar intake per day. Her analysis reveals that some fruit-flavoured waters can be an unhealthy substitute for sugary fizzy drinks, with several containing added sugars, intense sweeteners and other additives.

Almost half (48%) of primary school children have access to a tablet, with one in three (35%) accessing game consoles and almost one in five (17%) using smartphones

Kids spend over 7 hours a week playing on game consoles, smart phones, tablets and watching TV. When time spent on all devices is added up, children spend more time on their devices than outdoors

It's a sign of the times that playing ‘active' computer games ranks in the top five most popular activities parents like to play with their children.

Walking (81%)

Playing active games together (61%)

Hiking (25%)

Running (37%)

Playing active computer games (26%)

Commenting on the findings Professor Hevey said:

"My research aimed to establish the true difference a programme like Super Troopers with Laya Healthcare can make in terms of childrens' activity levels and improved nutrition and on both scores it's clear that the gains are substantial. What's more, there are knock-on positives for parents and the wider family too. This demonstrates clearly how compulsory health-related homework can be an effective approach for significantly increasing physical activity and improving vegetable and healthy food consumption in our children. I think the learnings from this research should be taken on board by policy makers and given consideration if we're serious about tackling childhood obesity and wellness in Ireland. Making health homework compulsory as part of the primary curriculum would be an incredible step in the right direction."

Lorraine Walsh, Head of Marketing at laya healthcare, said the free programme has been embraced by teachers, parents and school kids because of its innovative approach to introducing health and wellness into the existing school curriculum. "Super Troopers is designed by teachers for teachers - so it feels intuitive, fun and easy, which I think has proved key to its success. We're so heartened by the findings of Professor Hevey's research. It reaffirms what we knew; that parents and teachers are doing their level best for kids, and that positive reinforcement of health and wellness every day in the right environment will effect change in the short and long-term. We added in more wellbeing elements to Super Troopers this year and we're thrilled to see both kids and their families have benefited from this."

FURTHER RESEARCH FINDINGS

The Super Troopers effect:

- The research by Professor Hevey found that Super Troopers with Laya Healthcare supports children's health and wellbeing during a critical phase of their development. When compared to the national average of children Growing Up In Ireland study (GUI), this latest research found that children who took part in GUI were twice as likely to be inactive than those children participating in Super Troopers.

- After taking part in Super Troopers, between one quarter and one third of children, parents and their families said they were more active. A quarter of children were more active with their Dads following completion of the Super Troopers programme Vs a third of children becoming more active with their Mums.

- One in four families admit to eating healthier as a result of participating in the programme.

- Mindfulness and wellbeing are an increasing focus in the Super Troopers programme, and the results are paying off with nearly one in four (23%) of children seen to have improved their stress management compared with before they started the programme.

- Kids are happier; one fifth (22%) say they felt happier after completing Super Troopers.

- Healthy eating habits: The research reveals that one in two families (54%) eat dinner together at the table every day.

- This compares to one in three (35%) who eat dinner together in front of a TV/computer every week.

- Sugary treats remain popular, with one third (36%) reporting that their child eats sweets, chocolate or biscuits at least once a day.

Happy Children

- The vast majority of parents (97%) report that their child is happy, with two thirds (67%) reporting that their child rarely feels low.

- On the whole, parents feel their child has good mindfulness ability, with good concentration, able to stay present and focused and healthy resilience coping behaviours.

Registration now open for 2017/2018

Registration for Super Troopers with Laya Healthcare is now open for the 2017 - 2018 academic year, with capacity increasing to allow more schools to take part.

Go to supertroopers.ie/register-your-interest or call 01-5224848

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