11 for Health: Schoolchildren learn about health through football

11 for Health: Schoolchildren learn about health through football

Knowledge about health is a cornerstone in a child’s development of physical and psychosocial health. A new study from the University of Southern Denmark demonstrates that the 11 for Health programme – a series of football exercises delivered in school settings – can increase health knowledge in relation to diet, exercise, hygiene and wellbeing.

Since 2016, around 25,000 pupils in years 4-6 in 86 of Denmark’s municipalities have taken part in the project “11 for Health in Denmark”, an 11-week exercise and health education programme offered to all schools in a collaboration between the University of Southern Denmark and the Danish Football Association (DBU).

More than 3,000 of these pupils completed questionnaires before and after the programme aimed at determining their knowledge about health and understanding their experience of the 11-week programme. The main article from this study, which has now been published in leading sports science journal the British Journal of Sports Medicine, confirms that the programme is meeting its key objectives:

“The participating children increased their knowledge about health in the areas of diet, exercise, hygiene and wellbeing to a greater extent than the control group, which followed the original planned lessons in the 11 weeks between the questionnaires. There was a difference between the groups of more than 7 percentage points for both boys and girls, and in a number of key health areas the difference was more than 10 percentage points,” says postdoc Malte Nejst Larsen, the article’s lead author.

“The idea that children learn best if they can connect the learning to relevant activities is not new, but it’s rare for such large studies to be carried out in real-world schools – and with such unambiguous results,” he says.

The “11 for Health” concept was developed prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but it has proven effective in relation to all the current challenges around health, fitness, physical activity, wellbeing and particularly, knowledge about hygiene. In fact children doubled their knowledge about hand hygiene through the programme. The latest results show very clearly that it is possible to combine health learning with exercise that is fun, motivational and inclusive for all children – including those who have very little experience of sport.

This was explained by the project’s lead researcher Professor Peter Krustrup of the Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics at the University of Southern Denmark, who stresses that there was record-high participation in autumn 2020. The researchers are also therefore delighted that Nordea-fonden, which has been supporting the project since 2018, has extended its support through to summer 2021. The project group is currently seeking funding for an ambitious expansion of the concept and a research study of the concept’s long-term effects.

The article also provides data on the children’s opinion of the programme. These show very encouragingly that the girls rate the programme just as highly as the boys (4 on a scale of 1-5), despite the fact that the girls generally have considerably less experience of football than the boys.

Bent Clausen, Vice President of the Danish Football Association (DBU) with focus on grassroots football says:

“It is great that ’11 for Health’ is able to have a broad reach and spark an interest in football in all children, both boys and girls, beginners and experienced players. After all, that is what football is really good at including everyone no matter what their background. And with the school programme a natural next step, and an important aid for the associations, is getting new players and including them in the valuable communities within the football clubs.”

In connection with the publication of the “11 for Health in Denmark” main article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the renowned researchers Jane Thornton, Jiri Dvorak and Irfan Asif have written an editorial stating that the implementation of the Danish version of the concept is a success story and that the concept usefully can be extended to the entire western world.

About the study:

  • Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark studied 3,117 participants in the “11 for Health in Denmark” project.
  • The participants were boys and girls in year 5.
  • The participants completed a questionnaire at the start of the study and again after 11 weeks.

The results show that:

  • “11 for Health in Denmark” improves health knowledge in 10-13-year-old Danish children by up to approx. 10 percentage points.
  • The teaching of “11 for Health in Denmark” is equally effective for girls and boys, and girls achieve the best outcomes for wellbeing.
  • Girls and boys rate the programme equally highly.
  • “11 for Health in Denmark” can play an important role in preventing diseases.
  • The “11 for Health in Denmark” project is financially supported by Nordea-fonden.

What are the prospects for “11 for Health”?

  • Politicians, school heads, teachers and educators can use this knowledge and the “11 for Health in Denmark” programme when implementing health teaching in middle schools.
  • The programme has the potential to motivate and engage more 10-13-year-old children, especially girls, in sports clubs after they have had a positive experience of football and physical activity.
  • The scaled-up programme is tailored for use in western countries to promote a combination of health education and motivational physical activity, with broad-spectrum improvements in health knowledge, wellbeing, cognitive function and physiological health profile.
Michael Viggars

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