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Abstract

Objective: To examine trends in active transport to and from school, in school sport and physical education (PE), and in weight status among children from high and low socio-economic status (SES) areas in Melbourne, Victoria, between 1985 and 2001.

Methods: Cross-sectional survey data and measured height and weight from 1985 (n=557) and 2001 (n=926) were compared for children aged between 9–13 years within high and low SES areas.

Results: From 1985 to 2001, the frequency of walking to or from school declined (4.38±4.3 vs. 3.61 ± 3.8 trips/wk, p<0.001), cycling to or from school also declined (1.22±2.9 vs. 0.36±1.5 trips/wk, p<0.001), and the frequency of PE lessons declined (1.64±1.1 vs. 1.18±0.9 lessons/wk, p<0.001). However, the frequency of school sport increased (0.9±1.22 vs. 1.24±0.8 sessions/wk, p<0.001). In 1985, 11.7% of children were overweight or obese compared with 28.7% in 2001 (p<0.001). Apart from walking to school and school sport, there were greater relative declines in cycling to school and PE, and increases in overweight and obesity among children attending schools in low SES areas compared with those attending schools in high SES areas.

Conclusions: Declines in active school transport and PE have occurred at the same time as increases in overweight and obesity among Australian children.

Implications: Promoting active school transport and maintaining school sport and PE should be important public health priorities in Australia. Current inequities in school sport and PE and in prevalence of overweight and obesity by area-level SES also need to be addressed.