PHD RESEARCH LEADS TO PHYSICAL AND NUTRITIONAL HEALTH PROGRAMME AT SCHOOLS
2010/03/09 08:32:44 AM
Ms Roweena Naidoo
When Ms Rowena Naidoo began studying for her PhD in Sports Science three years ago she wanted to produce research that would have a positive outcome for society. And she will soon realise her goal when the KwaZulu-Natal Departments of Health and Education roll out the Nutrition and Physical Activity Programme (NAP) at schools around the province in March. The Programme is based on her research aimed at steering learners and teachers away from a sedentary lifestyle.
Ms Naidoo, a Lecturer in Sports Science and Life Orientation at the Faculties of Education and Health Science and the only graduate expected to be conferred with a PhD in Sports Science this April, began her intervention study for her research dissertation titled: Monitoring the Change of the Health Behaviour of Learners in Selected Health Promoting Schools in KwaZulu-Natal in 2008, to improve the nutritional habits of learners and increase their physical activity during lessons.
The study monitored the physical fitness and nutritional behaviour of about 798 grade six learners at schools in Ixopo, Pietermaritzburg and Port Shepstone. Twenty six teachers and 11 principals also participated in the project that encouraged lessons in English, mathematics and natural science to extend beyond the theoretical and include physical elements. For example if a mathematics lesson pertained to measurements, pupils were asked to get out of their chairs and move around the classroom or school to obtain the necessary measurements. Hence learners had engaged in a physical activity to complete a lesson that would otherwise have been achieved while they were confined to a desk.
Conclusions reached on the study’s completion indicate that learners’ concentration levels increased and they were more alert during lessons. This in turn assisted teachers who had learners’ full attention. Participating schools were inspired to adopt `a one minute physical activity policy’ which sees pupils engaging in a minute’s exercise prior to a lesson which settles them into work. The nutritional habits of learners improved and schools decided to present learners with healthier food options at school tuck shops.
Ms Naidoo said: “Physical activity among learners increased during lunch breaks and lessons as a result of schools participating in the study. Learners received between 45 to 215 minutes of additional exercise per week during school hours. I noticed that they made healthier food choices and replaced fizzy drinks with fruit and water. Teachers were equipped with basic game skills which improved physical activity in life orientation lessons. The study prompted schools to introduce an indigenous games play day, annually.”
“I always felt research should make some impact. I really enjoyed the 18 month study which empowered both learners and teachers. The next step is to get parents involved. At schools in rural areas I have found the learners and teachers are keen to participate in such programmes but there’s a lack of parental support,” said Ms Naidoo.
The next step for Ms Naidoo is working in collaboration with the DoE and the DoH to train school teachers to implement the Nutrition and Physical Activity Programme at 50 selected schools in KwaZulu-Natal.
In response to learning that she will be the only graduate to be conferred with a PhD in Sports Science, Ms Naidoo said: “On a personal note, this is a great achievement. I’m proud of myself and hope it opens more doors for me as an academic and researcher.”