Kids’ wellbeing toolkit given thumbs-up

A free wellbeing kit that school-based mental health nurses helped develop for kids in post-quake Canterbury has been expanded after a positive evaluation.

Activities such as teaching children tummy breathing to calm them down and how to play ‘compliments tag’ were launched on the Sparklers toolkit website last year and received 10,000 hits in the first few months. Twenty new Sparklers activities have been added, bringing the total to 50, including 10 activities specific to Year 7 and 8 children that focus on topics such as working together, building friendships and understanding and regulating big emotions.

The seed for the project germinated back in 2014 when the school-based mental health team – set up by Canterbury DHB after the quakes – was approached by a school concerned about anxiety issues in a group of Year 3-4 children. A youth mental health nurse on the team, Michelle Cole, said they suggested teaching tummy breathing and the process of teaching teachers how to share tummy breathing with their class prompted the idea of more simple, ‘doable’ mental health interventions that could help teachers help students and also help nurses who work with children.

The Sparklers online kit was developed by All Right?, a joint initiative between Canterbury DHB and the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, and a positive evaluation involving five schools has just been completed and released.

It found that one school had introduced Sparklers’ activities across all classrooms as a way of helping students struggling with the transition into classroom activities after playtime and lunch breaks. “We did tummy breathing – after breaks we would lie down and we would tummy breathe for 10 or two minutes. It felt nice and it calmed us,” said one child interviewed during the evaluation.

The Sparklers activities can be viewed at


Link between time in green space and child health being researched

Researchers are investigating whether time spent by children and pregnant women in our lush outdoors could prevent adverse health conditions in New Zealand children.

The Massey University public health study is using Stats NZ data to follow a cohort of babies born in 1998 from the prenatal stage until they are 16 to 18 years old. Researchers look at where the babies or children live and satellite data is used to map the area and measure how much greenery or biodiversity is in the area.

The study breaks down the findings into time windows – prenatal, postnatal, early life and later in childhood – and determines which age bracket children get the most benefit from time spent in nature.

The hypothesis for the study came about from existing literature suggesting proximity to green spaces had health benefits.

“There’s one study, for instance, which is quite fascinating and started all this; it shows that people recovering from surgery who look out over green space recover more quickly than patients who don’t have those views,” said Massey University Professor Jeroen Douwes, the Director of the Centre for Public Health Research.

School children surrounded by unhealthy eating habits

School children are being bombarded by messages about unhealthy eating, a new study has revealed.

A three-year study by University of Auckland researchers has, for the first time, mapped the nation’s food environments and policies.The study analysed food composition, labelling, marketing and prices, as well as food in schools and retail outlets.

It found only 40 per cent of schools had a food policy, but even those that did were “weak and not comprehensive”. Over 90 per cent of schools used unhealthy food for fundraising and 42 per cent sold sugary drinks, the study found.

The survey found that within 500 metres of the school gate there were an average of 2.4 takeaway or convenience stores, and nine advertisements for unhealthy foods.

Research leader Professor Boyd Swinburn said people chose their diets from the food environments around them and when it was dominated by unhealthy foods and drinks it was no surprise that overall diets were unhealthy and obesity rates so high.

Lower socio-economic neighbourhoods had about three times as many takeaway and fast food outlets, more advertisements for unhealthy foods around schools, and more shelf space devoted to unhealthy foods in supermarkets.


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