Researchers are encouraging school students to get physical.
Associate Professor David Lubans, Theme Leader for Physical Activity and Nutrition in Schools within the new Priority Research Centre (PRC) in Physical Activity and Nutrition, sees a strong link between opportunity and adolescent involvement in physical activity.
Students from private schools, with good facilities and well resourced teachers, have more opportunities to be physical active in the school setting.
Teenagers from disadvantaged schools, where there is less access to quality equipment and staff labour under a multitude of problems, often miss out on positive physical activity experiences and consequently show less interest in leading active lifestyles.
As a teacher Lubans taught at both ends of the spectrum, from disadvantaged public schools to the most exclusive of private schools. Now, as a Theme Leader in the research centre -- the first PRC for the Faculty of Education and Arts and a collaboration with the Faculty of Health -- his focus is on bridging the opportunity gap and improving physical activity among adolescents in general.
"One of the things I saw as a teacher was that activity levels decline in adolescence and when there is little emphasis on physical activity in the school, students very quickly become demotivated," he says.
"It is a difficult area to address but I think by supporting those schools we can help them overcome some of those barriers and one of the directions I see my research heading is towards improving teacher skills and re-engaging the most disengaged."
A former top-level rugby player who won a sports scholarship to the University of Oxford, Lubans appreciates the role of team sport in promoting fitness but says that creating "physical activity independence" is more of a priority for adolescents.
"The reality is that as much as team sports are enjoyable, they can only contribute a small portion to the total activity a human being needs," he says.
"I'm a big advocate for promoting lifetime activities in adolescence and teaching them behavioural skills such as self-monitoring and goal setting.
"What we should be doing is giving teenagers skills that will lead to a lifetime of activity."
Lubans is also interested in investigating the link between physical activity and mental health in adolescents, to build on promising evidence relating to improved self-esteem that has emerged from some of the research programs he has implemented in schools.
This outcome was evident in the his PALs (Physical Activity Leaders) program, a fitness and healthy eating project that targeted year nine boys from schools in low socioeconomic areas and was published this year in the journal Preventive Medicine.
"Not only did we see improvement in body composition and shape, we also saw improvements in physical self-perceptions, and we have seen similar results in other physical activity programs we have implemented," he says.
"Having high self-esteem and feeling good about your physical self can be an important protective factor against mental illness."