Focus on rural pupils’ activity

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The Beats goes on . . . Beats Study team members (from left) study co-ordinator Angela Findlay, honours student Brittany White, lead researcher Associate Prof Sandra Mandic, and research assistant Kimberley King have completed the rural data collection for the next phase of the study. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

Rural pupils who travel long distances could be less active than their urban counterparts in getting to school, early results of a large study show.

The isolation of many of Otago’s rural schools has a major influence on their transport methods.

That is the preliminary, anecdotal finding of the Beats (Built Environment and Active Transport to School) Rural Study.

Research leader Associate Prof Sandra Mandic, of the University of Otago, said in-depth analysis needed to be done, but interesting insights had already been revealed in focus groups.

“The distance to school appears to be a much greater barrier [to activity], and it can be as simple as rural pupils taking the bus being picked up at the gate,” she said.

The data has shown driving, being driven, or taking the bus are a popular choice for rural pupils, and could affect their levels of activity.

But for pupils living in small rural towns, walking to school was the main option.

Based at the university’s School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences, the multidisciplinary Beats Rural Study team has spent the past six months studying about 1000 pupils in 11 rural high schools in Otago and Southland.

The research, which aims to find out whether rural school pupils have more active ways of getting to school than their urban counterparts, follows the Dunedin-based Beats Study, which examined 1780 Dunedin high school pupils in 2014-15.

The Dunedin study found half of urban adolescents were driven to and from school, 30% walked and just 1.5% rode a bike.

Fewer than one-fifth of Dunedin pupils met physical activity guidelines (60 minutes per day), about one-quarter met nutrition guidelines and, on average, young people spent five hours per day on sedentary screen time – watching television, computer use and playing games.

Prof Mandic said the Beats Rural study was similar to the Dunedin study, and looked at not only cycling to school but also the effects of greater travel distances in a rural setting.

“There has been very little research done in rural areas before, so this work will be very valuable,” she said.

The schools surveyed were Blue Mountain College, Cromwell College, Lawrence Area School, Maniototo Area School, Mt Aspiring College, Roxburgh Area School, South Otago High School, St Kevin’s College, Catlins Area School, Tokomairiro High School and Waitaki Girls’ High School.

In the rural study, 995 pupils completed a survey, 178 pupils wore an activity meter, 195 took part in a mapping activity and 71 shared their views in focus groups.

The 17-member research team spent 750 person-hours collecting data in the rural schools.