NIK about development of physical activity in children and youth

Public funds for programmes aiming to stimulate physical activity of children and youth have been almost doubled. This however did not help achieve that goal. The percentage of children and youth (aged 11 - 17) taking physical activity in the amount recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – at least 60 minutes per day, 7 days a week, has dropped. At the same time, NIK has noted that the indicators specifying the physical activity assumptions were not designed properly. Besides, NIK shares the view that civilisation factors, such as development of digital technologies and spending leisure time with a computer or smartphone, contribute significantly to the decline of physical activity in children and youth.

Physical activity is vital for appropriate physical, mental and social development as well as for the prevention of obesity and locomotor system disorders.

However, a physical activity study conducted in 2013 and 2018 on a group of children and youth showed that most of them failed to comply with the WHO recommendations. Only about 21% in 2013 and only about 15% in 2018 of young people aged 11-17 practised moderate physical activity, i.e. at least 60 minutes a day, 7 days a week.

NIK verified if the programmes implemented by the Minister of Sport and Tourism from 2016 to 2019 triggered an increase in physical activity of children and youth. Although the Minister properly implemented those programmes, the physical activity of children and youth failed to reach the assumed level. From 2016 to 2019, more than PLN 415 million was earmarked for that purpose from the Physical Culture Development Fund and the Sports Classes for Students Fund (which made up 78% of expenditures for sport in general). As many as 4 million of children and youth took part in programmes financed in that way (e.g. Sport for All Children, the School Sports Club or I Can Swim).

Number of children and youth participating in programmes financed from Physical Culture Development Fund and Sports Classes for Students Fund in 2016-2018. In 2016: 1.17 million; in 2017: 1.28 million; in 2018: 1.55 million. Total: 4 million children and youth. From 2016 to 2018 the share of young people covered by the Minister’s support went up by 32.5%.

Financing of programmes for physical activity development in children and youth by the Minister. In 2016: PLN 91.6 million; In 2017: PLN 143 million; In 2018: PLN 180.7 million. Total: PLN 415.3 million. From 2016 to 2018 the Minister’s financing went up by 97.3%. Source: NIK’s analysis.

In the audited period the funds for the programmes’ implementation went up by over 97% - from nearly PLN 92 million to over PLN 180 million. That is why, the number of children and youth covered by the support increased by over 32% - from PLN 1.17 million to PLN 1.55 million persons. That increase, though, was not proportional to the increase in the programmes’ financing. The Minister’s programmes did not help boost the physical activity of children and youth aged 11-17.

The low level of physical activity in children and youth was confirmed by the results of the evaluation of the School Sports Club Programme and results of the survey organised by NIK. The evaluation study shows that in 2017 only 12% of students participating in the School Sports Club Programme took physical activity at the level recommended by the WHO and in 2018 it was a little more than 13%. A great majority of students i.e. nearly 87% of the ones not participating in the School Sports Club Programme and over 98% of the ones participating declared in the survey that they liked doing sport and that they were happy to take part in PE classes (over 87% and over 98% respectively). Though, only 9% of those who participated in the School Sports Club Programme (in their free time, i.e. outside the PE classes) and over 12% of those who did not participate (in their free time, i.e. outside the PE classes) took physical exercise 60 minutes a day, 7 days a week. Usually such students devoted at least 1 hour per day 1-2 or 3-4 days a week for physical exercise. Besides, over 10% of students who did not take part in the programme, did not do sport or recreation outside the PE classes at all and nearly 14% of them did it for less than 1 hour per week.

The objectives and priorities related to the physical activity of children and youth have been defined in the Sports Development Programme by 2020. Out of 4 indicators related to the development of physical activity in children and youth, only one went up. It was assumed that the percentage of girls aged 11-17, undertaking physical activity as recommended by the WHO (at least 60 minutes a day, 7 days a week) would be 60% in relation to the percentage of boys. Interestingly enough, it was more than 70%. In case of other indicators the assumed increase of physical activity was not achieved, in some cases it even dropped. What is worrying is its decline in 2018, in relation to the base value assumed in 2013 in the Sports Development Programme by 2020. The base value was shown in indicators of the percentage of children and youth aged 11-17 and 15-17 undertaking physical activity as recommended by the WHO. In the first case the indicator value went down from over 21% to over 15% and in the second one it dropped from over 13% to over 11%. Since the indicators were unachievable, they were lowered to the value of 2013. According to NIK that change was due to the fact that they were improperly designed by the Minister at the very beginning. For the same reason two indicators related to the development of the school sports and recreation infrastructure were removed from the Programme. It was assumed that the percentage of schools having access to the gym would grow from nearly 75% to 80% and the percentage of schools having access to any sports field or sports device would go up from about 76% to 80%. Nevertheless, due to the lack of data, the Minister stopped monitoring whether or not the indicators were achieved.

NIK has shared the Minister’s view that civilisation factors, such as digital technology development and spending leisure time with computers, smartphones or tablets, contribute significantly to the decline of physical activity in children and youth.

Besides, the effects of the Programmes financed from public funds remain unknown because the Minister failed to specify measurable objectives, measurements of achievement or tools to measure an increase of physical activity. As a consequence, it was not verified which programmes impacted an increase of physical activity in children and youth. Hence, it is unclear which of them are worth continuing.

According to NIK also the cooperation between the Minister of Sport with the Minister of National Education in terms of developing physical activity of children and youth at school age was insufficient. It amounted above all to the Minister providing opinions on changes to the education law instead of focusing on initiatives to boost physical activity of children and youth.

NIK has positively evaluated the implementation of new programmes in 2016-2018: the School Sports Club and the Club. More and more children, primary schools, communes and sports clubs participated in those programmes. On the other hand, no procedures have been defined in case of accidents in the Sports School Club (SSC) classes. And their number is growing. In 2017, there were 30 accidents in Poland, in 2018 this number reached 55 and in 2019 (until 30 June) it was 24. In 2018, as compared with 2017 the number of accidents spiked by 83%. Most frequently they were related to: contusions, bone fractures, sprains and dislocations of joints. Besides, the mobile SSC application was not implemented on mobile phones of the children and their parents. NIK says the app, including some elements stimulating children to take physical exercises (e.g. gamification), could help increase physical activity outside PE and the SSC classes.

NIK has positively evaluated the way the system for identifying sports talents among children and youth was developed. In 2017, a portal called the National Talent Base and in 2019 the Venture Scout Programme were introduced. However, from 2018 to 2019 not all necessary functionalities were incorporated in the portal, such as: the search of sports talents, which – in the opinion of NIK – made it difficult to identify them.

At the same time, the investment programmes implemented by the Minister helped enhance the school sports base. The financing of over PLN 466 million resulted in the construction and reconstruction of 1080 sports facilities in the Polish schools and modernisation of 131 ones from 2016 to 2018.

Effects of the Minister’s support of school sports infrastructure in 2016-2019: 1080 built and rebuilt facilities including 98 built or rebuilt sports halls. 196 built or rebuilt full-size gyms, 472 built or rebuilt sports fields. 18 built athletics centres, 202 built athletics devices, 94 built outdoor fitness devices and also 131 modernised facilities including 53 refurbished facilities and 78 renovated facilities in 986 schools. Source: NIK’s analysis

The audited communes properly performed tasks related to school sports facilities. The schools provided safe and hygienic conditions of using sports facilities. In two of eight audited schools, though, the safety of using the facilities was not guaranteed. In one school there was no obligatory control of the facilities’ technical condition.

Recommendations

To the Minister of Sport to:

  • prepare intervention guidelines in the strategic document on sports development in Poland in terms of physical activity of children and youth and the schools’ sports and recreation infrastructure as well as achievable indicators to evaluate the development of those areas,
  • specify measurable objectives, measurements of achievement and tools enabling the Minister to measure physical activity on a yearly basis or every several years.
  • implement the system evaluation on a yearly basis or every several years, including the assessment of their impact on the physical activity increase, based on the adopted qualitative measures and limitation of programmes and tasks having little impact on that development.

To the Minister of Sport and the Minister of National Education to:

  • expand cooperation in terms of shaping the habit among children and youth to take physical exercises and encouraging them to be more active outside the PE classes.

To the Institute of Sport – the National Research Institute to:

  • implement the National Talent Base functionality allowing the search of sports talents,
  • take actions to implement an app for mobile phones for children and their parents as part of the School Sports Club Programme, in order to encourage children and youth to take physical activity every day.

To communes and schools to:

  • ensure safe and hygienic conditions of using school sports facilities and conduct obligatory controls of the technical condition of sports facilities.

Article informations

Date of creation:
26 October 2020 15:53
Date of publication:
26 October 2020 15:53
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
26 October 2020 15:53
Last modified by:
Marta Połczyńska
 group of boys taking exercises in a sports field © Adobe Stock

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