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University of Basel

28 May 2019

First UNESCO Chair for the University of Basel

Professor Uwe Pühse with school children in South Africa.
With the award of a Chair in Physical Activity and Health in Educational Settings, UNESCO recognizes Professor Uwe Pühse’s commitment to helping disadvantaged schoolchildren in South Africa.

Professor Uwe Pühse of the Department of Sport, Exercise and Health at the University of Basel has been awarded a UNESCO Chair in "Physical Activity and Health in Educational Settings". The Chair will examine the relationships between exercise and sport, health and academic performance, and develop specific improvement measures. Professor Cheryl Walter from Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, has been appointed Co-Chair.

With the award of the Chair, UNESCO is supporting researchers’ efforts to promote physical activity, nutrition and hygienic living conditions for schoolchildren, particularly in southern Africa, thus contributing to their health and their performance at school.

The award marks UNESCO’s acknowledgement of earlier research projects by the Department of Sport, Exercise and Health DSBG in this area. Pühse and his team have been working closely with Nelson Mandela University NMU since 2012 to ensure better living conditions for schoolchildren in townships and other disadvantaged areas of South Africa.

As part of the Swiss National Science Foundation project "Disease, activity and schoolchildren’s health" DASH, the researchers spent three years working with NMU and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute to study the effects of exercise interventions, malnutrition and parasitic worm infections on the physical fitness, cognitive performance and psychosocial health of some 1,000 children at eight schools.

Improving health, promoting education and tackling poverty

This work served as the basis for the follow-up project Kazi Bantu (Swahili for "active people"), in which the team from DSBG and NMU developed simple measures aimed at promoting exercise and improving hygiene and diet at schools in disadvantaged areas. In a broad-based study, the scientists then examined the practicability and impact of the adopted measures. The results showed an improvement in the children’s physical condition, quality of life and performance at school.

Now, the UNESCO Chair aims to expand these findings and the corresponding measures to other regions and countries of southern Africa. This project is supported by the Novartis Foundation and the Embassy of Switzerland in South Africa, which is also responsible for Botswana, Lesotho, Mauritius, Namibia and Swaziland.

Logo UNESCO Chair on Physical Activity and Health in Educational Settings

Recognition opens new doors

The award of the UNESCO Chair is a clear recognition of the work of Pühse and the entire research team. This step adds yet more impetus to the ongoing programs and paves the way for new projects: "We’re delighted to receive this honor," says Pühse. "I’m very grateful that UNESCO has recognized the effectiveness of our work in this way. Even just the announcement that the Chair is being set up has brought us a great deal of attention. Now, we want to use this attention to expand the project and tap into new sources of funding for our research."

Eight UNESCO Chairs in Switzerland

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has awarded such Chairs since 1992, in order to promote international collaboration, networking and knowledge exchange between universities in the north and south. By adopting a consistently practical approach in their work, the Chairs are intended to improve the health of children and young people and boost their educational opportunities, thereby tackling poverty in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In addition to Basel, Switzerland currently has seven UNESCO Chairs.

Further information

Prof. Dr. Uwe Pühse, University of Basel, Department of Sport, Exercise and Health, phone: +41 61 207 47 84, email: uwe.puehse@unibas.ch


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