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03-03-2010 | Cardiometabolic | Article

Extra physical activity in schools helps children’s fitness


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MedWire News: A school-based physical activity program can improve children’s fitness and decrease their body fat, a Swiss randomized controlled trial suggests.

Susi Kriemler (University of Basel) and colleagues randomly assigned 28 classes from 15 elementary schools to extra physical activity or their usual activity lessons for 9 months.

The intervention included structuring the three existing physical education lessons each week and adding two extra classes, plus several daily short activity breaks and physical activity homework.

Results showed benefits in the primary outcomes of body fat, aerobic fitness, and physical activity for the 297 pupils receiving the intervention compared with 205 in the control group.

Children receiving the intervention had significantly smaller increases in the sum of four skin folds, equivalent to approximately 2 mm compared with control children.

They also showed a significant increase in aerobic fitness, representing an increase of 20 seconds in running time in a 20 m shuttle-run test.

There were also favourable changes in moderate–vigorous physical activity, and all-day moderate–vigorous activity and total physical activity.

But changes were not significant for overall daily physical activity, or for physical and psychological quality of life.

Cardiovascular risk score, a secondary outcome, decreased more in the intervention than control group, with a 14% shift from the median.

Overall, 90% of the children and 70% of the teachers enjoyed the five physical activity lessons and wanted them to continue.

Reporting in the British Medical Journal, the researchers conclude: “Implementation of such a program may help to improve the health and fitness of children and also improve health later in life by reducing cardiovascular and other diseases.”

However, in an accompanying editorial, Esther van Sluijs and Alison McMinn (Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, UK) warn that while school-based physical activity programs are promising, they are difficult to sustain.

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Current Medicine Group, a trading division of Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2010

By Anita Wilkinson