Creating tailored physical activity opportunities for vulnerable children through school and sport

One size does not fit all when it comes to physical activity for vulnerable children. Dr Emiliano Mazzoli is exploring ways to provide a more equitable approach.   

Dr Mazzoli aims to meet the need for tailored physical activity opportunities for vulnerable children, namely Indigenous children and children with a disability. 

These two groups have historically been excluded from research programs that would offer the skills and opportunities to engage in lifelong physical activity, despite the many benefits.  

Around 1 in 10 children worldwide (nearly 240 million) are living with a disability, with greater disadvantage and health-related risks than their typically developing peers. Physical activity is critical for these children: it can improve essential skills for independent living, such as strength, coordination, balance, and flexibility; and can boost cognitive function and self-esteem.  

However, fewer children with disability meet physical activity guidelines, compared to typically developing children. They also report lower levels of wellbeing, are less fit, have lower motor skill levels and are more likely to develop obesity and chronic conditions.  

Even though a higher percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children meet physical activity recommendations, this group also experiences disadvantage. Compared to non-Indigenous youth, Indigenous young people have higher prevalence of overweight/obesity, type 2 diabetes, and mental health conditions.  

For this group, providing culturally appropriate physical activity and sport opportunities based on collaborations with local Indigenous communities is essential to promote social connection and belonging, to lay the foundation for lifelong physical activity participation. 

Dr Mazzoli aims to create workable physical activity solutions for both groups through the support of a Deakin University Executive Dean Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. His fellowship involves: 

  • Assessing how appropriate the Australian Sports Commission’s physical literacy measurement tool for children is when used with vulnerable children.  
  • Testing the use of the same physical literacy tool by coaches in rural and remote areas with Indigenous children (in collaboration with the Moriarty Foundation). 
  • Testing the effectiveness of a school-based physical activity intervention (TransformUs All Abilities) on physical literacy, physical activity, and cognitive functioning in children with disability. 

Through these activities, Dr Mazzoli hopes to collect information that will have direct practical applications – for example, modifying physical activity programs offered to vulnerable children; and changing the way vulnerable children perceive their own abilities, leading to greater confidence and enjoyment in being active.   

Dr Mazzoli hopes his ground-breaking research could give teachers and coaches the tools they need to offer tailored physical activity and sport opportunities to vulnerable children, helping them to stay active and healthy for life.