A study published on bmj.com today reports that a structured physical activity program at school can develop children’s fitness and reduce body fat.
A total of 540 children from fifteen schools in Switzerland were evaluated by researchers. Children were seven to eleven year old. Pupils were randomly allocated to an intervention group. For over nine months they underwent a physical activity program designed by experts. This involved structuring their existing three physical education lessons and adding two extra lessons a week. Also, they were given daily short activity breaks and physical activity homework. The pupils that were randomly allocated to a control group continued to only receive their existing three lessons a week.
Researchers reported in the intervention group:
• a relative decrease in body fat
• improved aerobic fitness
• higher levels of in-school physical activity
• smaller increases or larger reductions in body mass index (BMI)
• lower cardiovascular risk
However, there was no significant change in overall daily physical activity and quality of life.
Ninety per cent of the children and seventy percent of the teachers enjoyed the five physical education lessons and wanted them to continue. The researchers attribute the success of the program to:
• the work of experts
• attractiveness to both children and teachers
• integration into the school curriculum
They note that the study offers a practical way of implementing a physical activity program in schools. This is an essential point since childhood obesity and cardiovascular disease are increasingly common. Moreover, many children are not responsive to programs aimed at increasing out-of-school physical activity.
The researchers conclude that such programs improve the health and fitness of children, as well as health in later life by reducing cardiovascular and other diseases. The population of Switzerland is considered representative for central Europe. As a result, the findings may be valid for many other Western countries.
In an accompanying editorial, researchers comment that school based physical activity programs are promising. However in the long term, they may be difficult to sustain. Broader implementation of this intervention would considerably add to the school timetable. They conclude that further research is needed in order to study the feasibility and acceptability of such a strategy in different countries.
Source: Medical News Today