Introduced in 2018, the program provides parents of children aged 4.5 to 18 years with access to a $100 voucher to reduce the cost of registration or membership for a structured sport or fitness activity.
Of the approximately 1.2 million children eligible for the annual voucher, 60 per cent have taken advantage of it, according to the Office of Sport.
Senior author Dr Lindsay Reece said the results, published in BMC Public Health on Monday, were “really quite positive”.
She noted that although the voucher did not totally address gaps in physical activity between groups of children – for example, among voucher users, those who spoke English at home spent more time being physically active (at least an hour on 4.5 days of the week) than those who did not (at least an hour on 3.85 days) – accessing the vouchers resulted in increased weekly physical activity for all demographics.
“We do know there is slower [voucher] uptake with disadvantaged communities … what the results show here is this is one part of the solution,” she said.
Other states have followed NSW’s lead in implementing sports voucher programs for children.
In November, Victoria announced plans for a program based on disadvantage criteria. South Australia started issuing vouchers to all primary school students in 2019.
Acting Sports Minister Geoff Lee said the state government would continue to identify and promote opportunities for children to redeem their vouchers.
“I encourage all parents to download their first Active Kids voucher for 2021 through the Service NSW website,” he said.
Researchers found soccer was the most popular sport for children accessing the NSW program, accounting for 28.4 per cent of voucher use.
Netball (10.6 per cent), swimming (10.2 per cent), multisport activities such as after-school fitness programs (7.9 per cent) and dance (7.3 per cent) were also common choices.
They were selected well ahead of rugby league, Australian rules football and rugby union. However, with the vouchers becoming available on January 1 each year, this could have been influenced by when registration occurs.
The amount of time children spent doing physical activity declined as their age increased: children aged four to eight completed at least an hour on an average of 4.5 days, but this dropped to 4.29 days for teenagers aged 15 to 18.
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Mary Ward is a health reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.