Enhancing Physical Activity Levels through Government-led Sports Promotion for Children: A Taiwanese Case

Written by Yu-Ling Chen and Ren-Shiang Jiang.

Image credit: 96躲避球賽5年級15 by 頭家國民小學 Tuojia Elementary School/Flickr, license CC BY-NC 2.0

The policy of promoting children’s physical activity has been practised in Taiwan for decades. Since the democratic reforms in 1987, Taiwan has entered what is known as the post-marital law period. Consequently, reformed democratic politics has given peace and freedom to the people of Taiwan. At the same time, as economic planning in Taiwan began to take off, the government began to pay more attention to sports and exercise promotion. In 1999, the initial version of the Sports and Physical Education Policy White Paper of Taiwan was released. The contents of this whitepaper addressed two main national directions for sports and exercise promotion: those of competitive sports for elite athletes, and those concerned with sports-for-all. In line with the sports-for-all policy directive, several national projects were launched and led by the Taiwanese central government. For example, the “333 Project,” which was conducted from 1998 to 2003, aimed to encourage children to meet the stipulated physical activity guidelines: exercise 30 minutes per day, three days a week, and 130 heartbeats per minute after exercise. From 2004 to 2007, the policy linked exercise promotion to health issues and sought to promote a healthy weight status in school children. The Ministry of Education published the “Quick-living Project” in 2007. Since then, the policy of physical activity promotion in children has aimed to develop children’s basic knowledge, skills and habits of physical activity. These projects are followed by the educational system and applies to almost every child in Taiwan throughout their time in school.

Moreover, to strengthen the quality of physical education and improve the physical fitness level of the children, the Ministry of Education launched the “Physical Fitness Instructors Cultivating Plan.” This plan provides education and certificates, which were adopted from the American College of Sports Medicine. It aims to train the necessary professional personnel who can support and conduct physical fitness assessments, along with the promotion of exercise programmes at school. The physical fitness assessment, which takes place once every academic year, is a memory many Taiwanese people share from their school life. Promoted by the Ministry of Education, the physical fitness assessment began in the 1990s and aimed to examine children in elementary, secondary and high school in Taiwan. The assessment is standardised, and the battery of tests include a focus on body mass index (BMI), flexibility, muscular strength, cardiopulmonary function and exercise capacity. The results of this assessment were conducive for schools to understand the physical fitness level of each student. Using these results, schools could design tailored exercise promotion programmes for their students. These assessment results were conveyed to the Ministry of Education to provide a profile of each cohort; they were also used to monitor students’ physical fitness levels. Since 2006, the annual assessment results have been uploaded to the online database, which is managed by the government. The database can provide students with essential feedback concerning their assessment results to support and motivate further exercise and sports activity. Since the launch of the physical fitness assessment, student’s physical fitness levels have been increasing gradually. Furthermore, evidence shows an improvement in flexibility, muscular strength and cardiorespiratory endurance in children and young people since 2012. The physical fitness assessment results are now included as part of the high school and university entrance exam — equivalent to the GCSE and A-level exam in the UK — by some schools, colleges and universities. Furthermore, big data plays an essential role in informing policymakers for physical activity promotion and physical education.

As national levels of physical fitness have increased, the government responded by publishing the “Building a Sports Island” project in 2010. This project was conducted to achieve three main objectives:  getting everyone to love exercise, increasing the perception that any place can potentially be an exercise space, and any time can be exercise time. Since the launch of the project, the prevalence of exercise has increased by 33% across the whole Taiwanese population. Evidence also shows that 45% of children aged 13-17 years participated in regular weekly exercise. To follow up these results —building on the findings of the Building an Exercise Island project — in 2015, the government launched the latest sports promotion project, the “Sport in Taiwan” project. The project was not just about individual exercise, as it hoped to include the whole of Taiwanese society at a collective level. It aimed to see an increase in self-motivated exercising habits, along with integrating exercise in the local culture. Therefore, the aim was to promote a universal exercise culture, which was to become a part of people’s daily life in Taiwan. Although exercise policies, and sports promotion, are continually evolving, the core philosophy has always been to introduce physical activity to all the Taiwanese from a young age. Through the school system, children in Taiwan are also motivated by the annual assessment to improve their physical fitness level. Since the majority of children are meeting the physical activity guidelines, there is a simultaneous hope to see the national average physical literacy of children, and young people, improve.

Although the term “physical activity” has been recently introduced to Taiwan in the last decade, the policies of exercise and sports promotion have existed for a long time. While competitive youth sports remain relatively stable in Taiwan, the message from the government is clear: sport and exercise cannot just be an activity for elite athletes, but everyone living in Taiwan. This imperative also works in compliance with the World Health Organisation Global action plan on physical activity 2018–2030: more active people for a healthier world. The government has laid the foundational promotion of physical activity across several generations in Taiwan, and these legislative efforts have begun to show positive results as more children now engage in their PE lessons and also participate in after-school sports clubs.

Sports industries in Taiwan are also thriving. However, the work of promoting physical activity in Taiwan is nowhere near the finishing line yet. With the rapid speed of globalisation, Taiwan is seeking to join the rest of developed countries to become one of the leading countries with the most comprehensive sport-for-all policies, along with a cultural imperative whereby an active lifestyle becomes the “Taiwanese style.”

Yu-Ling Chen received a PhD in Physical Activity, and Public Health from Loughborough University and her research interests are in physical activity and sedentary behaviour intervention. She previously worked on two NIHR-found RCTs to change children and truck drivers’ health behaviour in the UK. Yu-Ling is currently working as a teacher at Mudan Elementary School in Pingtung, Taiwan.

Ren-Shiang Jiang is an associate professor of the Department of Physical Education at the National Taiwan University of Sport. He received a PhD in Sport Policy study from Loughborough University in 2013. Ren-Shang’s work has been based in the area of sport policy with a particular interest in investigating governance system, clientelistic relationships, and strategic relations within western and non-western sports policy systems especially in Taiwan and the UK. 

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