Children's fitness can be improved by physical activity programs in schools

Children's fitness can be improved by physical activity programs in schools

A study published on 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

• intensity

• 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.

"Effect of school based physical activity programme (KISS) on fitness and adiposity in primary schoolchildren: cluster randomised controlled trial"

Susi Kriemler, assistant professor for pediatric sports medicine, Lukas Zahner, postdoctoral research fellow, Christian Schindler, statistician, Ursina Meyer, research assistant, Tim Hartmann, research assistant, Helge Hebestreit, professor of pediatric pulmonology, Hans Peter Brunner-La Rocca, professor of cardiology, Willem van Mechelen, professor of occupational and sports medicine, Jardena J Puder, assistant professor of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism

BMJ 2010; 340:c785


"Preventing obesity in primary schoolchildren"

Esther M F van Sluijs, investigator scientist, Alison McMinn career development fellow

BMJ 2010; 340:c819

Benefits of Exercise for Children: Pattern Jumping Physical Activity Programs for Children (Video Medical And Professional 2020).

Section Issues On Medicine: Medical practice