Back to school to get fit and healthy



Two studies, presented (Tuesday 6 January) at a major academic conference, reveal the gender difference in activity levels among school children and the over 70s. Both studies show males to be more physically active than females. The two studies are being presented at the UK Society for Behavioural Medicine annual conference (incorporating the National Prevention

Full Post: Females of all ages are less active than their male peers

A study which reviewed physical activity in schools has found that school health and exercise programmes can offer benefits even if they don’t help students lose weight.

The researchers from the Cochrane Library say school-based health and exercise programs offer positive outcomes despite having little effect on children’s weight or the amount of exercise they do outside of school.

The researchers carried out a systematic review of studies on physical activity programs in schools in Australia, South America, Europe and North America and found that school-based programmes increased the time children spent exercising and reduced the time spent watching television - such programmes also reduced blood cholesterol levels and improved fitness even though they had little impact on weight, blood pressure or leisure time activities.

Experts believe a lack of physical inactivity is a contributing key factor behind 1.9 million deaths every year and almost a quarter of all cases of coronary heart disease.

It has been shown that people who are overweight as children are more likely to develop heart disease as adults and exercise helps to maintain a healthy weight, but most children do not do enough exercise to gain any health benefit.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says schools are important settings for the promotion of physical activity among children.

From the 26 studies of physical activity promotion programmes in schools reviewed, it was found that most tried to encourage children to exercise by explaining the health benefits and changing the school curriculum to include more physical activity for children during school hours.

These programmes included teacher training, educational materials and providing access to fitness equipment and lead researcher, and Maureen Dobbins, from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, says that schools should continue their health promotion programmes.

Ms Dobbins suggests these activities should be supported by public health unit staff, and parents and teachers acting as positive role models and spaces found in school timetables to create environments that encourage pupils to engage in physical activity each day.

She says schools have great opportunities to help pupils learn how to promote health and minimise the risk of acquiring a chronic disease.

Ms Dobbins also suggests some programmes often don’t improve physical health measures such as weight and blood pressure because they may be too closely associated with school work.

She suggests the key to promoting physical activity might be by getting children and adolescents to ‘play’ in ways that promote better fitness levels, while at the same time represent fun and adventurous activities.

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