Kaya Stavretis, 15, runs and walks her dog between study sessions. Picture: Jason Edwards
Kaya Stavretis, 15, runs and walks her dog between study sessions. Picture: Jason Edwards

Push for teens to ditch the desk

Recalcitrant teens have been arguing it for years but now there is evidence to back up their claims that sitting down to do hours of homework is bad for their health.

Experts from Australia's world-leading Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN) say teachers should be setting secondary school students less sedentary homework to help improve their academic performance as well as their wellbeing.

The world-first research shows teenage students sit for 75 per cent of the time while at school and 73 per cent of time after school.

While too much screen time - courtesy of devices and video games - is partly to blame for the huge chunk of time spent sitting in the evenings, so too, is homework, the study found.

"We need to look at ways to make homework and recreation time less sedentary as teenagers spend almost three-quarters of the evening period between 6pm and 10pm sitting," lead researcher Dr Lauren Arundell said.

"Teens are typically driven to school, sit at school, driven home, do their homework, and then watch TV or play video games and go to bed.

"That equates to far too much sitting time and is only exacerbated by the ubiquity of personal devices."


Kaya Stavretis, 15, runs and walks her dog between study sessions. Picture: Jason Edwards
Kaya Stavretis, 15, runs and walks her dog between study sessions. Picture: Jason Edwards


Teachers could set active homework by instructing certain tasks - such as summaries, reflections, quizzes, research reading and preparation of class presentations - be completed while standing at a bench rather than sitting at a desk, she said.

They could also be creative and allocate homework which required students to move.

Melbourne's Year 10 Balwyn High student Kaya Stavretis, 15, said she sometimes had up to three hours of homework a night.

To break up the amount of time she spent sitting she walked her dog or went for a run.

"I come back refreshed, so it actually helps me concentrate more," she said.

Kaya said she also played footy and cricket.

Dr Arundell said there was emerging evidence to show sitting for long periods was detrimental to young people's social and mental health, as well as to their physical health.

"Recent studies have shown that teens who break up their sitting have lower diabetes risk factors than peers who remain sitting," she said. "Evidence also shows that kids who sit less and move more have better academic outcomes."

Parent's Voice spokeswoman Alice Pryor said a move towards more active homework would be welcomed by most families.

"We know that children aged 13 to 17 are the least active population group and that four out of five teenagers are exceeding the recommended amount of screen time. Being active is key to leading a healthy, good quality life," she said. "Parents aiming to balance a day spent at school in front of screens with after school physical activity are often thwarted by homework requirements. Schools have a responsibility to ensure that work that is to be completed outside of school time does not unduly impact of the health and wellbeing of their students."

The Deakin University IPAN study, published today in the prestigious journal BMC Public Health, tracked nearly 400 students at 18 Victorian high schools using wearable devices, which measured not only movement but also the amount of time they spent sitting, standing and lying during different periods of the day.

A spokesman for the Federal Education Department said health and physical education was one of eight key learning areas in the Australian Curriculum and the government had invested $200 million to the Sporting Schools initiative to help schools increase children's participation in sport, and connect them with community sporting opportunities.

To further educate the population on limiting sedentary behaviours the Government had developed the 24-hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Young People, he said.