Experts weigh in on sedentary behaviour in schools

Learning doesn’t always need to happen sitting at a desk

We know that school kids spend too much time sitting at their desks. Now we have some evidence-based recommendations to counter that sedentary behaviour. They offer guidelines to educators, parents and caregivers to help school-aged children grow and thrive.

Valerie Carson
Valerie Carson

“It kind of challenges traditional views of learning,” said Valerie Carson. “Learning doesn’t always need to happen sitting at a desk.”

The recommendations fill a critical gap in information. Educators and parents have known about the negative implications of sedentary behaviour and wanted more information about how to mitigate it at school, explained Carson, an associate professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation.

“With the pandemic, a lot of screen time and sedentary behaviour has just been amplified,” said Carson, who is also a member of the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.

There are four Ms to keep in mind to help counteract the effects of school-related sedentary behaviour: manage sedentary behaviour, encourage meaningful screen use, model healthy screen use and monitor for signs of problematic screen use.

“Screens have become a large part of our day-to-day lives, so it’s important to step back and ask, ‘Why are we using screens in this situation, and how can we maximize the benefits while minimizing the harms?’”

These recommendations could involve incorporating movement whenever possible during classroom and homework time, prioritizing screen use for mentally and physically engaging activities rather than passive viewing, and avoiding screens as the default option in learning.

“Screens can play a role, but they should complement the many other ways young people can learn,” said Carson, who co-led the development of the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth.

Carson said implementing the recommendations shouldn’t fall solely on schools – it’s a collective effort for anyone interested in student health and well-being.

“This is something that parents, caregivers, pediatricians and policy makers can use. Essentially, the whole community can use these recommendations to support the healthy development of children and youth.”

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Carson was on the international team of experts that generated the recommendations, which were created through an extensive review of the evidence on the relationship between sedentary behaviour and academic and health outcomes. The team also looked at existing national and international guidelines on sedentary behaviour among school-aged children and youth.

The process of developing the recommendations was led by the Sedentary Behaviour Research Network in partnership with the CHEO Research Institute and the University of Prince Edward Island. The guidelines have already been translated into 14 languages.

The recommendations are a tool to support and empower schools and a resource for anyone working with school-aged children in Canada – and beyond, noted Carson. “This is something that would apply across countries, across populations.”

“Some schools and teachers may read these recommendations and say, ‘We’re already doing this,’ and that’s wonderful,” said Carson. “For others, it may spark new conversations and ideas on how to support children and youth as they learn and grow.”

| By Adrianna MacPherson

Adrianna is a reporter with the University of Alberta’s Folio online magazine. The University of Alberta is a Troy Media Editorial Content Provider Partner.


The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.

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