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School-based exercise programs may help boost fitness, but some still fall short

January 21, 2009 |  1:08 pm

Kids and teens need to move more and sit less, but finding ways to keep them physically active continues to be puzzling.

BasketballSchool-based programs have had some success, however, according to a new study that examined previous research on interventions offering education and exercise. But the programs aren't the total solution, since they fall short in some areas, including increasing leisure time activity, and decreasing body mass index.

The meta-analysis published recently in the Cochran Library examined 26 studies of school-based plans to determine what worked and what didn't. Generally, the interventions provided information on the benefits of exercise and nutrition, and explained the disadvantages of eating junk food and maintaining a sedentary lifestyle. They also increased the students' physical activity during school, ensuring that they were burning more calories during that time, and encouraged kids to be more active outside of school. Some programs also included parents as well as community-based plans. The Cochrane study sited the importance of school-based programs, saying, "school-based strategies targeting all students through curriculum ensures 100% of students are exposed to the intervention, thereby increasing the reach of these interventions."

Some of the programs had a positive effect on promoting exercise among children and teens. They were particularly helpful in increasing the duration of physical activity and in decreasing the amount of time spent watching television. They were also beneficial in reducing blood cholesterol and enhancing fitness levels. However, they were not influential in increasing leisure time physical activity, or in decreasing blood pressure or body mass index.

The authors wrote that longer studies are needed to measure the effectiveness of these programs: "It is important, especially for those interventions having positive effects, for outcomes to be measured in the long term so that these results can better inform policy and program decision making at multiple levels."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / L.A. Times