Almost half of parents in Ireland believe that their children are getting enough physical activity during their school day, when in fact, most are not, new research has shown.
Children are recommended to undertake a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity every day, or seven hours per week. However according to these new findings, 90% of secondary schools provide less than two hours of physical education to students each week.
Yet 42% of parents believe that their child is doing enough activity during their school day.
Some 58% of parents said that they find it difficult to fit in the additional five hours of activity that is provided by schools. However, almost all - 98% - admitted that their child has screen time every day.
The research was commissioned by Irish Life Health to coincide with the launch of its 2017 Schools Fitness Challenge. This challenge, which has been developed in collaboration with Prof Niall Moyna of the Centre for Preventive Medicine in Dublin City University (DCU), aims to help secondary school students to adopt a healthier lifestyle by becoming more physically active.
"Physical education (PE) programmes in our schools have huge shortcomings, and the fact that so many of our children are overweight and unfit leaving school is clear proof of this. If our children were failing maths leaving school we would quickly look at why and we need to do the same with PE as it's simply not working the way it is taught in our schools," Prof Moyna commented.
He believes that a restructuring of the PE curriculum is needed and this should include PE being made ‘an examinable school subject'.
"The current PE curriculum is in crisis and failing our children," Prof Moyna insisted.
As part of this research, 70 PE teachers were surveyed about the curriculum, and 82% said that it needs to be changed. Over half said that they are frustrated with the current syllabus, while almost 60% feel that it is not fit for purpose.
Commenting on the research, Prof Craig Williams, director of the Children's Health and Exercise Research Centre (CHERC) at the University of Exeter, said that the benefits for children of undertaking enough physical activity ‘should not be underestimated'.
"Best practice around the world, including recent initiatives from Scandinavian countries, show whole school approaches, particularly related to increased PE curricula, are an effective strategy to promote enhanced physical activity and fitness.
"We know from our own research that the likelihood of meeting the physical activity recommendations decreases with increasing age, so it's imperative that we get our children active and exercising at an early age and regularly if we want them to be healthy adults," he said.
This marks the sixth year of the School's Fitness Challenge. It is designed to show students the impact a simple six-week programme can have on their fitness levels.
Last year, over one-quarter of all secondary schools in Ireland took part and since 2012, over 126,000 students have taken part.
According to Irish Olympian and Irish Life Health ambassador, Thomas Barr, exercise benefits both physical and mental health.
"I've always used my athletics as a break from studying - nothing cleared my head like getting out for a training session with my friends. It's so important that teenagers start exercising now and have fun doing it, to ensure that healthy lifestyle habits are established early on. The Irish Life Health Schools Fitness Challenge is a great place to start," he said.
PE teachers nationwide can now register their students to take part in the challenge here. The closing date for entries is September 22.