Schools play a critical role in helping children lead active, healthy lives. Recess, PE classes, after-school programs, and walking or biking to and from school all have the potential to get kids moving. Research shows that kids who move more aren’t just healthier, they also tend to do better academically, behave better in class and miss fewer days of school. Unfortunately, many schools do not offer enough opportunities for children to be active. Policy-makers, teachers and parents can use research on the benefits of school physical activity to advocate for programs and policies that help children be active before, during and after school.
Download our Schools-related Resources Sheet for the best evidence available about a variety of school-based strategies for promoting physical activity.
You can also view and download our The Role of Schools in Promoting Physical Activity infographic.
Physical activity is essential for children’s current and future health, but most do not get their recommended daily 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity. Children spend most of their waking hours at school, thus this location is extremely important for activity accrual. Investigations of physical activity, its contexts, and associated variables (e.g., policy and practices) in schools are needed, but researchers are often challenged by having limited access to studying these environments.
McDonald, N. C., Steiner, R. L., Palmer, W. M., Bullock, A. N., Sisiopiku, V. P., & Lytle, B. F. (2014). Costs of School Transportation: Quantifying the Fiscal Impacts of Encouraging Walking and Bicycling for School Travel. Transportation. DOI:10.1007/s11116-014-9569-7.
National governments have provided subsidies for investments in increasing the safety and attractiveness of walking and biking to school. Evaluations of Safe Routes to School initiatives have found that they have been effective at changing behavior and reducing injuries. However, there has been little attention to the impacts of these programs on pupil transportation costs. This analysis assesses the potential economic benefits of Safe Routes to School programs in the US context by estimating the annual costs of using motorized transport for short trips to schools, examining real-world examples of the costs savings of SRTS programs, and evaluating land use impacts on school transportation costs using a simulation analysis of school bus routes. We find that there is potential for school districts and families to reduce transport expenditures through public sector investments in walking and biking infrastructure near schools. We also find that land use context matters and the most cost-effective investments would benefit schools where large numbers of children live within walking distance.
National Women's Law Center & The Poverty and Race Research Action Council. (2015). Finishing Last: Girls of Color and School Sports Opportunities. Washington, DC: National Women's Law Center.
This report, from the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC), presents data showing that at the national and state levels, girls of color do not receive equal chances to play school sports. The report delves into the consequences of this inequality for girls of color and offers recommendations for addressing the problem.
The major findings of the report are:
- Over 40 percent of our nation’s schools are either heavily white or heavily minority.
- Heavily minority schools not only offer fewer overall athletic opportunities (a race discrimination issue under Title VI) but also fail to distribute those limited opportunities equitably between boys and girls (a sex discrimination issue under Title IX).
- In fact, 40 percent of heavily minority high schools, compared to 16 percent of heavily white schools, have large gaps between the percentage of spots on teams for girls and the percentage of students who are girls. These gaps suggest a lack of compliance with Title IX. This means that girls of color finish last in terms of chances to play sports.
This report was partially funded by Active Living Research through a Commissioned Analysis Award.
You can also read a blog post about the report: Girls of Color Are Doubly Disadvantaged in Access to School Sports Opportunities
Workshop at the 2015 Active Living Research Annual Conference.
Initiating and developing multi-national collaborations is a task- and socially-oriented, dynamic process that results in shared goals and products. The initiation of the collaboration can occur from any side, but the development process—the adoption of a shared identity with the collaboration, the transcultural learning and sharing, the tolerance of differences and the recognized benefits outweighing the limitations—must be endorsed by all sides to achieve desired outcomes. This workshop discussed strategies and techniques drawing on community based participatory research methodology, Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion, reflective listening and cultural anthropology to identify culturally relevant practices and described lessons learned during the implementation of the CAMBIO Project – Canada and Mexico Battling Childhood Obesity and the development of the Multinational Collaboration to Increase Physical Activity in Hispanics. Participants in this workshop received classroom style training and interactive demonstrations along with small group work to master skills focused on identifying collaboration strengths and weaknesses along with areas of opportunity and threats to productivity. Specific examples came from innovations in reverse innovation, relevant technology and cultural trends.
Workshop at the 2015 Active Living Research Annual Conference.
Park, recreation, and school settings are viable locations for physical activity accrual, but investigations of physical activity and associated variables in these “open” environments have been challenging because the number and type of users and their activity levels are highly variable and the setting characteristics change often. We have designed, tested, and validated several systematic observation tools (e.g., SOFIT, SOPLAY, SOPARC, SOPARNA) that permit the assessment of physical activity in various locations while simultaneously providing contextually-rich data on the environment. These tools have the advantages of flexibility, high internal validity, low inference, and low subject burden. Nonetheless, they have disadvantages including personnel costs, need for observer training and recalibration, inaccessibility to certain environments, and potential subject reactivity. The workshop uses PowerPoint presentations and video examples to reach the objectives. Discussion includes an overview of recent innovations (e.g., free RAND website for data entry and analysis; apps for IPADS), definitions of behavioral categories, protocols for use (e.g., pacing of observations), coding conventions (i.e., interpretations of common scenarios), observation techniques (e.g., duration, frequency, interval, and time-sampling recording), observer training and recalibration, inter-observer reliability, subject reactivity, activity level validation, and practical issues.
Creating "activity-friendly environments" is recommended to promote physical activity, but potential co-benefits of such environments have not been well described. An extensive but non-systematic review of scientific and "gray" literature was conducted to explore a wide range of literature to understand the co-benefits of activity-friendly environments on physical health, mental health, social benefits, safety/injury prevention, environmental sustainability, and economics. Five physical activity settings were defined: parks/trails, urban design, transportation, schools, and workplaces/buildings.
A peer-reviewed paper based on this report is available online through open access here.
Presentation at the 2015 Active Living Research Annual Conference.
Across the nation, afterschool programs (ASPs, 3-6pm) are working towards achieving national and state childhood obesity polices that define the amount of physical activity children should accumulate while the program is operating. One of the most promising policies is from the California After School Resource Center and California Department of Education. In 2009, the California Department of Education, in conjunction with the California After School Resource Center, developed the California After School Physical Activity Guidelines which state that ASPs ensure all children engage in a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) every day the program is in session. The importance of this Physical Activity Policy is reflected in the clearly defined programmatic (e.g., every day) and behavioral (e.g., children accumulate 30min MVPA/d) goals and its ability to provide at least half of the recommended daily minutes of MVPA. Unfortunately, the amount of MVPA children accumulate while attending an ASP falls well below existing standards. While policy adoption is necessary, without the implementation of strategies to achieve the goals outlined in policy documents, improvements in children’s MVPA is unlikely. Hence, policies are necessary, alone they are insufficient. The goal of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of a multi-step adaptive intervention called Strategies To Enhance Practice (STEPs), designed to assist ASPs to meet the 30 minutes of MVPA/day policy goal, using a group randomized controlled trial design. The information presented represents the year 01 physical activity outcomes from baseline (spring 2013) to end of first year (spring 2014) of multi-year intervention.
The design and delivery of the STEPs conceptual framework involves a multi-step, adaptive intervention approach to incorporating strategies into daily routine practice designed to increase children’s MVPA. The approach identifies essential ASP characteristics that represent fundamental building blocks which function as necessary programmatic components to achieving full integration of the strategies and eventual achievement of PA Policy. The approach considers each individual ASP as a separate setting, even when an ASP might be part of a larger organization (e.g., YMCA, Boys and Girls Club). This approach is conceptually analogous to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and was informed from a systems framework for translating childhood obesity policies into practice in ASPs, the extensive work we’ve conducted within the ASP setting, and is consistent with the growing literature on systems capacity building. In the spring 2013, 20 ASPs serving over 1,700 children (6-12yrs) were randomized to either an immediate (n=10) or 1-year delayed treatment group (n=10). Intervention ASPs received STEPs which focused on intentional programming of activity in each ASPs’ daily schedule, and included professional development training to establish core activity competencies of staff and ASP leaders by providing ongoing technical support/assistance. The primary outcome was accelerometry-derived proportion of children meeting the 30min/d MVPA policy.
Children attending intervention ASPs were 1.8 (odds ratio [OR], 95CI 1.3-2.5) times more likely to achieve the MVPA policy at post-assessment compared to control ASPs. Sex-specific models indicated intervention girls and boys increased from 16.7% to 21.4% (OR 2.1, 95CI 1.2-3.6) and 34.2% to 41.6% (OR 1.7, 95CI 1.1-2.6) achieving the MVPA policy, respectively, while the proportion of boys (33% to 33%) and girls (16% to 15%) in the control ASPs meeting the MVPA policy did not change. At post-assessment, 6 intervention ASPs increased the proportion of boys achieving the MVPA policy to ≥45% compared to 1 control ASP, while 3 intervention ASPs increased the proportion of girls achieving MVPA policy to ≥30% compared to no control ASPs.
The results of this group randomized controlled trial suggest that the STEPs approach can assist ASPs in moving towards compliance to MVPA policy goals. Additional work is required to increase the amount of activity children attending ASPs accumulate, with a concerted focus on girls.
The “ensure all children accumulate 30min MVPA/d” policy goal, while having considerable public health relevance, may prove difficult for ASP providers to fully meet – 100% of children achieve. Revisiting the policy language to emphasize a more achievable goal, perhaps 3 out of 4 (75%) children meeting, may assist in programs’ success. Likewise, additional efforts to identify ways to enhance activity offerings, without substantial cost, are necessary.
Support / Funding Source
Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Heart, Lung, And Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01HL112787. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
Presentation at the 2015 Active Living Research Annual Conference.
In 2010 Governor Sonny Perdue signed HB 229, the Student Health and Physical Education (SHAPE) Act. The legislation mandated that all children in Georgia public schools who are enrolled in physical education courses should have annual fitness assessments taken and that those results would be reported to the Governor annually. Georgia State University was contracted to conduct an evaluation of the implementation of the SHAPE Act.
The goals of the evaluation were to 1) assess the degree to which teachers accurately administered the FITNESSGRAM® test (e.g., instructing students, accurate scoring) and 2) explore the perceptions of teachers and students with the testing requirement and protocol.
Observational Data. Two types of direct observations were made of samples of teachers. One of the observations was conducted with a checklist of key pieces of information that teachers should communicate to students before they perform each test component. A trained observer and certified FITNESSGRAM® test administrator observed teachers administering test components. Descriptive statistics were computed to determine the percent of correct and complete instructions provided to students before taking each portion of the FITNESSGRAM® test. The mean for correct and complete items on the four tests was determined overall and according to the three levels of training teachers received. The second type of observations checked for differences between scores recorded by teachers/volunteers/students and those recorded by independent, trained recorders. Trained observers watched and counted as one student completed a component of the FITNESSGRAM® test. Their counts were made strictly according to each test’s protocol and then recorded along with the count made by the teacher/volunteer/student who was assigned that responsibility. Total observations for each test component were: curl up (n=334), PACER (n=809), push-ups (n=854), sit and reach (n=296), and BMI (n=300). Descriptive statistics were computed to determine the percent difference between teacher scores and trained expert scores. Focus groups. Eleven focus groups with 56 students and 57 PE teachers were conducted in six school districts to better understand their perceptions and experiences related to administering and completing FITNESSGRAM®. A range of questions was asked related to knowledge and perceptions of the SHAPE Act, training to implement and complete fitness testing, experience conducting testing, innovative ideas for facilitating FITNESSGRAM® implementation, and recommendations for improving testing. Data was transcribed, coded and analyzed using NVivo Qualitative Software.
Observations of testing completed in schools showed that the required instructions for the following test components were communicated to students by the teacher/tester correctly and completely as follows: push-ups 77.6% (range 28.6%-100%); PACER 73.8% (28.6%-100%), back saver sit and reach 66.7% (44.4%-100%), curl ups 56.4% (9.1%-81.8%). The overall mean for correct and complete test items was 69.9%. Scores were also analyzed across categories of teacher training the tester received. Scores for correct and complete testing direction were as follows: Level 1 (most highly trained teachers) 75.4%, Level 2 47.5%, and Level 3 (least trained) 33.3%. Observations of testing to assess reliability between teachers and trained experts showed exact agreement in scores as follows: curl up 43.7%, PACER 60.3%, push up 37.5%, sit and reach 78.7%, BMI 100%. Agreement based on +/-1 were as follows: curl up 62.3%, PACER 79.3%, push-ups 52.3%, sit and reach 82.4%, BMI 100%. Overall agreement with the Healthy Fitness Zone designation was as follows: curl-up 96.3%, push-ups 87.5%, sit and reach 98%, aerobic capacity 97.3%. Focus group findings suggest widespread support among teachers and students for fitness testing. Major concerns included time required to test, which was reported to range from 3 days in high schools to 1 ½ months in elementary schools, and varied based on ratio of student to teacher, equipment available, size of gym, and school schedule (e.g., block or semester); inaccurate scoring, which was driven by student participation in administering testing and reports of cheating when their peers/friends assisted; excessive sitting (i.e., sedentary time), which occurred when students wait on others to be tested. Teachers also reported challenges with the FITNESSGRAM® software, both with entering, maintaining, and printing data. Participants provided numerous recommendations to improve testing.
Findings from statewide fitness testing raise questions about the fidelity to testing protocols and the accuracy and usefulness of data collected. Yet, agreement with FITNESSGRAM® Healthy Fitness Zones was high. Many students enjoy testing, and teachers value the effort because they sense that there is potential for testing to have impact on student health and family engagement in student physical activity. There are concerns related to excessive instructional time taken for testing, cheating and inaccurate scoring, and increased sedentary time while students wait to be tested.
This evaluation informs physical activity policy implementation efforts by highlighting challenges and areas where more attention and training may be needed.
Support / Funding Source
This evaluation was supported by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta on behalf of the SHAPE Partnership.
Presentation at the 2015 Active Living Research Annual Conference.
The 2005 U.S. Transportation Bill funded each state to offer Safe Routes to School (SRTS) initiatives to increase active commuting to school (ACS). In September 2007, the Texas Transportation Commission approved $24.7 million for 250 projects in communities through individual or district-wide grants on a cost-reimbursement basis. Of these, 194 were awarded non-infrastructure projects, which included development of local plans, local implementation, or statewide implementation. The remaining 56 were awarded infrastructure grants, which included an engineering project to allow active transport to schools, such as sidewalks, crosswalks, etc. The way in which SRTS funding was allocated in Texas led to a natural experiment opportunity to examine the outcomes of policy implementation across different schools/sites.
The goal of this study was to determine the effects of differing funding allocation methods (infrastructure versus non-infrastructure grants) on ACS three years after implementation of the state SRTS projects. Our primary hypotheses were: (1) schools with SRTS infrastructure funding would have a significantly greater percentage of children engaged in ACS compared with schools with SRTS non-infrastructure funding and schools with no SRTS funding, and (2) schools with SRTS non-infrastructure funding would have a significantly greater percentage of children engaged in ACS compared with students in schools with no SRTS funding.
The study was quasi-experimental, with three conditions: (1) funded infrastructure (n = 23); (2) funded non-infrastructure (n = 22); and (3) matched comparison/control (n = 34) schools. Elementary schools were selected based on funding type, location (urban/rural), race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status (SES); comparison schools had similar characteristics but received no funding. Non-infrastructure schools were required to submit a plan by 2008, with the intent to implement the plan during 2009; infrastructure schools had a longer time frame for implementation, depending upon the time needed to complete construction of the proposed project(s). ACS counts were obtained by self-report at baseline (2009), interim (2010, 2011), and follow up (2012) time periods for before school (morning) and after school (afternoon) commutes. Serial cross-sectional survey data were collected from 4th grade students and their parents during baseline (2009) and follow up (2011-2012), using questionnaires with demonstrated validity and reliability. Built environmental characteristics of each school’s campus and its nearby streets were measured with an audit instrument (Lee et al. 2013). School-level implementation of SRTS policies was determined using a questionnaire completed by the principal or designate. Data were analyzed using mixed linear regression and controlled for random and fixed effects, and other independent variables. Growth curve models were fit to represent the repeated measures of percentage of 4th graders using ACS as a function of time and school type, controlling for weather. For a global measure of implementation of SRTS policies, a scale was developed using the sum of SRTS activity questions on the school-level survey, with potential responses ranging from 0 to 16.
Surveys were collected from 1653 and 1700 parent-child dyads at baseline and follow up, respectively. The study sample of children was approximately half male at both baseline and follow up; distribution of race/ethnicity was similar at both baseline and follow up, with approximately 63% Hispanic/Latino and 7% African American. Morning percentages of ACS in infrastructure and non-infrastructure schools were significantly higher than in comparison schools (p=.024, p=.013, respectively) (Figure 1). No significant linear trend was noted for morning percent ACS overall, but non-infrastructure schools had decreased percent ACS over time (p=0.014). For afternoon percent ACS, there was an overall increasing trend (p=0.015), but afternoon percent ACS in non-infrastructure schools decreased over time (p=0.009). Total percent ACS (morning and afternoon) in non-infrastructure schools showed a decreased trend over time (p=0.002). Parents from all schools, regardless of funding status, reported significantly worse neighborhood bikeability and walkability from baseline to follow up (p30 minutes daily physical activity (p
Implementation of cost-reimbursement policies that fund SRTS infrastructure projects do not appear to have significant effects on percent ACS in the short term; these policies may negatively affect percent ACS for non-infrastructure projects over time. Comparison schools implemented more SRTS activities at follow-up, indicating a secular dissemination of these activities. More long term follow-up may be necessary to determine outcomes of infrastructure projects, due to project completion time.
Policies that provide cost-reimbursement funding for SRTS initiatives appear to be difficult to implement at a high level, and thus, are not able to achieve desired outcomes in the short term. Non-infrastructure activities need mechanisms for continued support or maintenance over time.
Lee, C., Kim, H. J., Dowdy, D. M., Hoelscher, D. M., & Ory, M. G. (2013). TCOPPE School Environmental Audit Tool: Assessing Safety and Walkability of School Environments. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 10, 949-960.
Suport / Funding Source
This study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, with partial funding from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and contributions from UTSPH, TAMHSC, Texas Health Institute, Live Smart Texas, and the Texas Department of State Health Services.