Recent media headlines “banning playground rules” at Swanson Primary School have attracted millions of reads, tweets, Facebook likes and have erupted in numerous global newspaper and online articles leading to some interesting discussions. The project, called “PLAY” originated close to home with Auckland University of Technology’s Professor of Public Health, Westlaker Grant Schofield, working closely on the team leading this study.
The bulk of Grant’s work challenges beliefs and practices around the way we live our lives – especially as it relates to our health. Grant has worked on standing more and sitting less, resulting in a series of studies with standing desks. He’s turned the food pyramid upside down and is currently doing a lot of work in higher fat, lower carb diets for health and performance. The recent “PLAY” publicity has been around a broader theme of “free range kids” and the value of unstructured play – that is, risk and adventure on kids’ terms, not adults. Grant says “The frontal lobe of a child’s brain is developed when they are taking risks allowing them to calculate consequences, something they have to learn themselves. It doesn’t develop by gaming, watching TV or playing computer games – kids have to get out there.”
Grant was at Westlake from 1982-1986 and remembers not spending as much time on his schoolwork as he possibly could have done in his last two years at school. Being a keen sportsman, he represented Westlake’s 1st Rugby XV for two years and was rowing captain and member of the 1986 Senior Rowing Eight that finished 2nd in the Maadi Cup, receiving his Westlake sports colours for both codes.
After finishing school Grant attended Auckland University graduating with a PhD in Psychology and winning a University Blues Awards for both triathlon and duathlon. Grant’s first academic positions were in Queensland, Australia where he remained for nine years. It was during that time that he further developed his passion for triathlon sports and he represented New Zealand in elite duathlon and triathlon teams at a number of world championships. He also raced professionally completing 14 Ironman distance events with the highlights being the Hawaii Ironman triathlon world championships in 1995 and 1997.
Exercise, nutrition and health had become Grant’s field of expertise and in 2003 he moved back to New Zealand where he became Auckland AUT’s Professor of Public Health in 2006 – the youngest ever Professor to be appointed to that position. His interests are in children/youth, workplaces, built environments, sitting behaviour and redefining public health talk about social factors into a politically universal language. In his work he attempts to understand, and then change, the factors of the contributing behaviours of physical (in)activity and healthy eating. Grant is a board member on the Government’s Health Promotion Agency, the Health Research Council’s Public Health Committee and he chairs the Board of the Getin2Life Youth Development Trust. Grant is married to Louise with three boys Sam, Jackson, and Dan.
Grant likes to see plenty of unstructured play at schools. “Bring back bull rush” he says. “I ran into one of my teachers from back in the days, Mr Brett Hart. We fondly recalled the bull rush games we used to play at intervals at Westlake. We’d always try and smash Mr Hart and – as was the norm in those days – he liked to give as good as he got.”
Follow Grant and his blog ‘The Science of Human Potential’ here.
If you hear any news of Westlake Old Boys or former staff or if you are interested in supporting Westlakers events and activities, please contact Mrs Christine O’Dowd at school on 09 410 8667 or by email [email protected]