Changing the school environment to increase physical activity in children


We examined the hypothesis that elementary school-age children will be more physically active while attending school in a novel, activity-permissive school environment compared to their traditional school environment. Twenty-four children were monitored with a single-triaxial accelerometer worn on the thigh. The students attended school in three different environments: traditional school with chairs and desks, an activity-permissive environment, and finally their traditional school with desks which encouraged standing. Data from the school children were compared with another group of age-matched children (n = 16) whose physical activity was monitored during summer vacation. When children attended school in their traditional environment, they moved an average (mean +/- s.d.) of 71 +/- 0.4 m/s(2). When the children attended school in the activity-permissive environment, they moved an average of 115 +/- 3 m/s(2). The children moved 71 +/- 0.7 m/s(2) while attending the traditional school with standing desks. Children moved significantly more while attending school in the activity-permissive environment compared to the amount that they moved in either of the traditional school environments (P < 0.0001 for both). Comparing children's activity while they were on summer vacation (113 +/- 8 m/s(2)) to school-bound children in their traditional environment showed significantly more activity for the children on summer vacation (P < 0.0001). The school children in the activity-permissive environment were as active as children on summer vacation. Children will move more in an activity-permissive environment. Strategies to increase the activity of school children may involve re-designing the school itself.

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Lanningham-Foster L, Foster RC, McCrady SK, Manohar CU, Jensen TB, Mitre NG, Hill JO, Levine JA