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Governments and health authorities are expressing concern about increasing levels of obesity, diabetes and physical inactivity in children. In response to such concerns, it is common to adapt strategies for adults to children, and to conduct adult-focused research. This paper describes a research study commissioned by the South Australian government that sought to involve children aged younger than 12 years in defining their meanings and views about physical activity. The research is being used to plan strategies to increase children's participation in physical activity. The qualitative study combined focus groups, drawing and mapping techniques and photographic methods with 204 children aged 4-12 years in metropolitan and rural South Australia. This paper reports results from two of the research questions: What are children's theories of physical activity, play and sport? What do children want to tell adults? Results indicate that children were enthusiastic participants in the research and appreciated the opportunity to communicate their views. The terms 'physical activity' and 'exercise' had little meaning for children, who described them as terms adults use. 'Play' and 'sport' had powerful, contrasting meanings for children: with 'play' child-centred and 'sport' controlled by adults. Children had mixed views on the power of sporting heroes as role models, on computers and television as the enemy of physical activity and on links between physical activity and health status. The research demonstrates that children bring to the discourse about physical activity some ideas that challenge the views adults hold about children. It is recommended that strategies to increase children's participation in physical activity are designed using research with children.

Keywords: Child-centred research; Children's perceptions; Physical activity

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Flinders University Australia 2: University of South Australia Australia 3: Women and Children's Hospital Adelaide Australia

Publication date: 2004-04-01

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