In Slovenia, the physical fitness of children and adolescents is monitored annually for the duration of a child’s entire schooling period. This system has been in place since 1987, and was previously known as the “Sports Educational Chart”.
SLOfit, as it is called nowadays, monitors the physical and motor development of all school children in Slovenia and enables educating reports on this development. The SLOfit fitness database is therefore one of the largest databases of child fitness in the world, holding health-based data on more than 40 birth cohorts of children who have been followed for approximately 13 continuous years (an age span of 6-19 years).
In 2016, SLOfit researchers developed a free-for-use online application system called “My SLOfit”, which provides schools and individuals administrative support for collecting, storing, and better understanding their physical fitness data.
The My SLOfit application is constructed as a vital diagnostic, surveillance and educational tool and can be used across one’s life span. Individuals can choose to share their data with health and exercise experts, which enables individual to improve their quality of life by incorporating more structured exercise into their busy schedules. My SLOfit also promotes reducing health risk behaviours that promote the development of noncommunicable diseases (e.g. sitting) and provides parents better insight into their child’s development. The SLOfit system results are used as the basis for individualised physical education classes based on students’ needs and abilities, it can be used as an intervention programme, and can be a valuable tool for connecting to the health care system in a coordinated manner.
SLOfit as a diagnostic tool for determining population health
During the 2000s, the SLOfit database enabled researchers to detect and monitor consistent fitness declines amongst primary school students. These changes prompted SLOfit researchers to petition the government to fund a physical activity intervention programme called “Healthy Lifestyle”. This programme has since been recognised as one of the first interventions worldwide that was able to reverse the negative trends in childhood obesity and halt significant fitness declines at the primary school level nationally.
Moreover, due to the consistent nature of the SLOfit national surveillance system, the SLOfit team was the first group in the world to detect large, systematic declines in the physical fitness of children during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
SLOfit researchers responded rapidly in order to incorporate national physical activity interventions for everyday citizens throughout the COVID-19 crisis; including by drafting national Physical Activity guidelines, SLOfit testing found the greatest decline in child fitness since systematic testing began more than 30 years ago. Only two months of self-isolation had erased over 10 years of hard-fought health gains acquired from the national public health policies and physical activity interventions.
- Annual assessment of physical development and motor efficiency help children and youth to follow the development of their own body and to gain awareness that they can influence both by regular physical activity and exercise. Photo: DIF archives
- Physical fitness is one of the most important determinants of health. Photo: DIF archives
Lifelong physical fitness monitoring
In the past two years, the SLOfit team has been redesigning and implementing an upgraded strategy to enhance the usability and impact of the original SLOfit system with the addition of SLOfit Lifelong. SLOfit Lifelong includes older generations, aged over 19 years, in an expanded format that allows individuals to check and evaluate their physical fitness well into adulthood and as they age. SLOfit Lifelong has created a unique research platform with the intention of studying the predictive validity of health-related fitness in youth and the subsequent influence thereof at older ages. Every year, a new cohort will enter the physical fitness surveillance system, enabling a continuous flow of novel data. Thus, in 2021 Slovenia was the first country in the world to implement lifelong surveillance and monitoring of physical fitness for its entire population
SLOfit makes the most of both traditional (e.g. print, television appearances, radio) and more recent communication channels (Facebook, a YouTube channel, Instagram, website) to reach the general and professional public in Slovenia.
The SLOfit platform remains one of the most cost-effective and informative resources for the lay public to find expert physical activity and physical fitness information.
It is reinforced by the latest scientific references and provides individual feedback and tips to those who need it the most. Moreover, the educational content on Facebook and Instagram offers concise information for adults and children alike, and videos on YouTube are mainly produced to encourage individuals to move more, fostering a cultural standard of being active for all Slovenians. Through this integrated SLOfit infrastructure, researchers can offer up-to-date educational content to improve the health and physical literacy of Slovenian citizens.
The SLOfit physical fitness surveillance system informs the Slovenian population of their fitness status.
From these annual surveillance test results, policymakers, principals and teachers can adjust how individual PE classes are conducted. SLOfit feeds back to policymakers to inform education and public health policy changes at the level of the Ministry. It is therefore hugely impactful from a pedagogical and epidemiological standpoint. SLOfit Lifelong now promotes the monitoring of inter-generational physical activity and fitness, noting that everyone can benefit from activities that improve health, well-being, and physical literacy. SLOfit researchers are using both online and offline communication actions to further advocate for long-term fitness surveillance across Europe.
Date: 17. August 2022
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